Two Islamic extremists shouting "Allahu Akbar" slit the throat of an 84-year-old priest and critically wounded another person during a terror attack on a Catholic church near the Normandy city of Rouen on Tuesday morning.
According to the New York Times, the two attackers, who had pledged allegiance to ISIS, were later shot and killed by police. Authorities identified the victim as Rev. Jaques Hamel, the auxiliary priest at the church, who, along with several others, had gathered for the World Youth Day celebration when the attack took place.
Besides the slain priest, two nuns and two churchgoers had been taken hostage, CNN French affiliate BFMTV reported. One of the hostages was seriously wounded, and is "between life and death," French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told reporters.
Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said in a statement that the attack is particularly heinous "because this horrific violence took place in a church, a sacred place in which the love of God is announced, and the barbaric murder of a priest and the involvement of the faithful."
Lombardi called the attack "more terrible news, that adds to a series of violence in these days that have left us upset, creating immense pain and worry."
Pope Francis, Lombardi said, has expressed "pain and horror for this absurd violence, with the strongest condemnation for every form of hatred and prayer for those affected."
He added that the "Catholic church cannot take up any other weapons but prayer and brotherhood among men" and called on the faithful "to lower their arms before violence and to become an apostle of a civilization of love."
Other religious leaders also condemned the violence, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, tweeting: "Evil attacks the weakest, denies truth (and) love, is defeated through Jesus Christ. Pray for France, for victims, for their communities."
Fox News quotes Mohammed Karabila, president of the Regional Council of the Muslim Faith for Haute-Normandie as stating that one of the attackers was on the radar of French police and had traveled to Turkey.
"The person that did this odious act is known, and he has been followed by the police for at least a year and a half," Karabila said, adding that the attacker "went to Turkey and security services were alerted after this."
This is the latest in a string of terrorist attacks carried out across Europe over the past few months. Fox notes that France is currently on high alert, as an attack in Nice on Bastille Day killed 84 people.
French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday condemned the attack and vowed to retaliate.
"[ISIS] has declared war on us," he said. "We must fight this war by all means, while respecting the rule of law -- what makes us a democracy."