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2016 Normandy church attack

Coordinates: 49°22′57″N 1°06′25″E / 49.382633°N 1.106940°E / 49.382633; 1.106940
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2016 Normandy church attack
Part of Terrorism in France & Islamic terrorism in Europe
St-Étienne church, where the attack took place
LocationChurch of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray
Normandy, France
Coordinates49°22′57″N 1°06′25″E / 49.382633°N 1.106940°E / 49.382633; 1.106940,
Date26 July 2016
09:43 CEST (UTC+2)
TargetAttendees of Catholic Mass
Attack type
knife attack, hostage-taking
Deaths3 (Hamel and both perpetrators)
PerpetratorsAdel Kermiche
Abdel Malik Petitjean
MotiveIslamist terrorism

49°22′57″N 1°06′25″E / 49.382633°N 1.106940°E / 49.382633; 1.106940

On 26 July 2016, two Islamist terrorists attacked participants in a Mass at a Catholic church in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy, northern France. Wielding knives and wearing fake explosive belts, the men took six people captive and later killed one of them, 85-year-old priest Jacques Hamel, by slitting his throat, and also critically wounded an 86-year-old man.[1][2][3] The terrorists were shot dead by BRI police as they tried to leave the church.

The attackers, 19-year-olds Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean, had pledged allegiance to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which claimed responsibility for the attack.[4][5]



At about 9:45 am on 26 July 2016, two men wielding knives and a handgun entered the 16th-century[6] church of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray as Mass was being held. Hamel, three nuns,[1] and two parishioners were taken hostage[4] and ordered to sit together in a group.[7] One attacker wore a fake explosive belt and the other wore a backpack made to look like it carried a bomb.[8] The handgun was later described as an "old, non-functioning pistol".[9]

A hostage said the attackers filmed themselves and "did a sort of sermon" at the altar in Arabic.[10] On the recording, which was later found by police, the attackers also shouted "you Christians are eliminating us".[11]

The attackers forced Hamel to kneel at the foot of the altar[7] and then slit his throat while screaming "Allahu akbar".[12] Hamel had tried to resist, pushing his attackers away with his feet while saying "go away, Satan".[13] Another hostage, an 86-year-old parishioner, was ordered to photograph or film the priest after he had been killed. The attackers then knifed him, leaving him critically wounded.[14] The other hostages were largely unhurt.[2] After the killing, the two men talked with the nuns about the Koran. One also warned "as long as there are bombs on Syria, we will continue our attacks".[15]

During the killing, one nun hostage ran outside without the perpetrators noticing. She stopped a passing motorist, who alerted the police.[7][16] After police arrived at the church, they tried to negotiate with the two men through a small window opening on to the sacristy.[8] Armed police then tried to enter the church and end the siege, but the attackers had lined the hostages up in front of the door, as human shields.[17] At about 10:45 am, the hostages fled the church, followed by the two attackers. One wielding a handgun, they charged at police shouting "Allahu akbar"[17] and were shot dead by officers from Rouen's Research and Intervention Brigade.[4][8]

Within hours of the attack, the ISIL-linked Amaq News Agency said that the attack was carried out by two "soldiers" from the group, in response to ISIL's general call to attack countries of the coalition fighting it.[4] On 27 July, Amaq published a video of the two perpetrators pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.[18]

Jacques Hamel


Jacques Hamel (born 1930 in Darnétal[19]) was named a vicar at the St.-Antoine church in Le Petit-Quevilly in 1958, a vicar at the Notre-Dame de Lourdes church in Sotteville-lès-Rouen in 1967, a parish priest at Saint-Pierre-lès-Elbeuf in 1975 and a parish priest in Cléon in 1988. He joined the church at Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray in 2000 and assumed his role as the parish's auxiliary priest in 2005.[20] With Mohammed Karabila, the president of Normandy's Regional Council of the Muslim Faith, he worked on an interfaith committee.[21]



One of the attackers was identified as Algerian-born 19-year-old Adel Kermiche.[22][23][24] Kermiche, who lived in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, had twice in 2015 attempted to travel to Syria. He was once returned by Germany, and once turned back by the authorities at the Turkish border. As a result, he spent time in a French jail before being released in March 2016.[8] Kermiche was released after writing to the judge "I am a Muslim based on the values of mercy, kindness (...) I am not an extremist," and insisting that he recited his prayers twice a day and "wanted to see his friends and marry".[25] The prosecutor opposed his release. Upon his release, he was electronically tagged and a curfew was placed on him, requiring him to live at his parents' home, which was near the church, and to leave his house only between 08:30 to 12:30 and 14:00 to 18:00.[26] Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France, said the release of Kermiche was a "failure" of the French justice.[27] Kermiche's writings were found after his death, in which he spoke of meeting his "spiritual guide" in a French prison, he called this guide his "sheikh," who "gave him ideas".[28] Kermiche's fiancée was Sarah Hervouet, a "convert to Islam,"[29] and one of the Paris bomb plot conspirators.

On 28 July, the second attacker was named by investigators as 19-year-old Abdel Malik Petitjean.[2] He was the France-born son of Algerian immigrants.[30] He had been "on the radar of the police since June 29", after he also tried to enter Syria from Turkey. French intelligence had received his picture four days before the attack, but they were not given a name or description at that time the prosecutor's office said. He was born in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, in Lorraine and grew up in Aix-les-Bains, southeast France. He was a student of commerce and finance who converted to Islam a few years before the attack. His mother told reporters that he had been visiting a cousin in northeast France before the attack and that she did not know how he had ended up in St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray.[31][32]

Following the attack, the Amaq News Agency released a video showing Petitjean and Kermiche swearing their allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.[33]



Police raided a house in the suburb after the attack and arrested one person.[4] The incident is being investigated by anti-terrorism judges.[when?][4][26]

Police were said to be trying to identify members of a closed channel on the messaging app Telegram, on which Kermiche had posted, as part of an effort to establish how the perpretators had met.[1] According to French daily Le Parisien, citing sources close to the investigation, Kermiche and Petitjean met on Telegram 4 days only before the attack. Petitjean then travelled to Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, 700 km from his hometown Aix-les-Bains, the following day.[34] A 29-year-old French ISIS fighter from Roanne was suspected of having influenced, if not controlled, the two perpetrators from his base in Iraq or Syria, also via Telegram.[35]

Two men, suspected of having been aware of Kermiche and Petitjean's plans, were charged with conspiracy and taken into custody in the weeks following the attack. One was a 30-year-old cousin of Petitjean, and the other a 21-year-old who had travelled from Toulouse to meet the perpetrators in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray two days before the attack.[36]



Mass is scheduled for each weekday at 09:00 at the church; Hamel celebrated that day acting as a substitute for the parish priest.[37]

Andrea Tornielli, writing for the Vatican Insider, says "this is the first time a priest has died inside a European church".[38] The same journal cites other deaths of Catholic priests in the West at the hands of common thieves or anti-religious people, as well as attacks by Islamists in Africa and Asia.[39]

Sid Ahmed Ghlam, who allegedly planned to attack a Villejuif church in April 2015, was reported to have had a list of churches which included Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray church.[40][41]



The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, said on Twitter, "the whole of France and all Catholics have been hurt. We will stand together".[42][43]

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said that Pope Francis was being kept up to date with developments and that he felt pain and horror at the "absurd violence".[44]

The Archbishop of Rouen, Dominique Lebrun, who was attending the World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland, said in response to the attack: "I cry out to God with all men of goodwill. I would invite non-believers to join in the cry. The Catholic Church cannot take weapons other than those of prayer and brotherhood among men".[4] Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, archbishop of Kraków asked the participants of the WYD to pray for all the victims of the recent terrorist attacks, especially for Jacques Hamel ″who was murdered today while celebrating the Eucharist in France.″[45]

Cardinal Seán O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston, who was also attending the World Youth Day, was asked whether Hamel could be declared a martyr and confirmed that "it was a question of hatred of faith". The interview explained that "the Church requires that the individual was killed for such a reason" in order to become a martyr. Speaking of the response by Catholics to Muslims, Cardinal O'Malley added "To demonise Islam that's always the great danger … we have to be very clear we are not painting everyone with the same brush.[46]

The BBC reported that the attack sparked a wave of "prayer, solidarity and Christian imagery" on social media.[47] and according to BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner, "the selection of a church by the attackers ... ... crosses a new red line in the grim history of recent attacks on continental Europe".[4]

Mohammad Karabila, President of Normandy's Regional Council of the Muslim Faith and imam of a local mosque said of Kermiche, "We're not going to taint Islam with this person" and "We won't participate in preparing the body or the burial". The mayor's office will decide whether the body is buried in the town.[48] On 30 July, Muslims attended Mass in churches across France and in Italy, as a sign of respect for the murdered priest.[49][50]

On 31 July, several copies of the Quran at the multi-faith room of Mater Dei Hospital in Malta were desecrated when slices of pork were laid inside the books. The perpetrators also left a photo of Jacques Hamel with the caption "Victim of Islam".[51]

Similar attacks


In February 2017, The New York Times reported that this church attack was part of a group of at least other four knife attacks in France in a span of 13 months, including the Louvre machete attack of 2017 and the 2016 Magnanville policeman's family stabbing.[52]

See also



  1. ^ a b c "Police in French priest murder case investigating meassage app link". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Willsher, Kim (28 July 2016). "Teenagers who killed French priest made film declaring allegiance to Isis". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  3. ^ "EN DIRECT - Prêtre égorgé près de Rouen : les deux terroristes se sont réclamés de Daech". Le Figaro. 26 July 2016. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "France church attack: Priest killed in hostage-taking near Rouen". BBC News. 26 July 2016. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  5. ^ Attentats en France : ce que l'on sait de Rachid Kassim, membre présumé de l'EI sur france24.com le 12 septembre 2016.
  6. ^ Base Mérimée: Eglise paroissiale Saint-Etienne, Ministère français de la Culture. (in French)
  7. ^ a b c "Murder of a priest: how the horror unfolded as two Islamic State terrorists took church by storm". The Telegraph. 26 July 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  8. ^ a b c d Willsher, Kim (26 July 2016). "France in shock again after ISIS murder of priest in Normandy". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  9. ^ "Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray: des armes blanches et un "dispositif factice"". Le Point (in French). 26 July 2016. Retrieved 19 August 2016.
  10. ^ James McAuley; Brian Murphy (26 July 2016). "Islamic State says militant 'soldiers' carried out Normandy church attack". The Washington Post. Retrieved 27 July 2016. "They recorded themselves," a nun identified as Sister Danielle told BFM-TV as she described the attacks. "They did a sort of sermon around the altar in Arabic.
  11. ^ "Attaque djihadiste à Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray : ce que l'on sait". Le Figaro (in French). Retrieved 27 July 2016. Une information confirmée au Figaro par une source policière évoquant un appareil d'enregistrement manié par les terroristes. Les djihadistes ont crié «Vous, les chrétiens, vous nous supprimez».
  12. ^ McAuley, James; Murphy, Brian. "Islamic State says militant 'soldiers' carried out Normandy church attack". The Washington Post. Retrieved 27 July 2016. the priest was forced to his knees and killed when he attempted to resist. Officials said the attackers screamed "Allahu akbar" (God is great) as they slit his throat.
  13. ^ The Irish Times, "Murdered French priest said ‘go away, Satan’ to attackers", Aug 2, 2016
  14. ^ "Extremists who attacked French church forced elderly hostage to film priest's execution before slashing him". National Post. 27 July 2016. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  15. ^ "France church attackers 'smiled' and talked of peace, nun says". The Guardian. 30 July 2016. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  16. ^ "Les terroristes ont mis le prêtre à genoux" : la sœur qui a lancé l'alerte évoque une scène d'"horreur" Closer. 26 July 2016
  17. ^ a b "One French church attacker identified as teen under house arrest". France 24. 27 July 2016. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  18. ^ "Isis posts video 'showing two Normandy attackers pledging allegiance'". The Independent. 27 July 2016. Archived from the original on 1 May 2022.
  19. ^ "Abbé Jacques Hamel Prêtre auxiliaire de la paroisse Saint-Etienne de Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray". Rouen Catholique. 26 July 2016. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  20. ^ "Jacques Hamel, 85, a Beloved French Priest, Killed in His Church". The New York Times. 27 July 2016.
  21. ^ "Father Jacques Hamel: Tributes paid to priest who dedicated life to church". BBC Online. 26 July 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  22. ^ Mortimer, Caroline; Osborne, Samuel (27 July 2016). "France church attack: Normandy attacker identified by authorities as 18-year-old Adel Kermiche". The Independent. Archived from the original on 1 May 2022. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  23. ^ "French 'priest killer' on probation". BBC News. 26 July 2016. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  24. ^ "France Church attacker identified". BBC.com. 27 July 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  25. ^ Simon Piel; Soren Seelow (27 July 2016). "Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray: why one of the perpetrators of the attack had been released". Le Monde (in French). Retrieved 27 July 2016. « Je suis un musulman basé sur les valeurs de miséricorde, de bienveillance (…) Je ne suis pas extrémiste », insiste-t-il, avant de préciser faire deux prières par jour [...] « J'ai envie de reprendre ma vie, de revoir mes amis, de me marier. »
  26. ^ a b "Priest killed after hostages taken in Normandy church, French police say". The Guardian. 26 July 2016. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  27. ^ "France church attack: Manuel Valls highlights 'justice failure'". BBC News. 29 July 2016. Retrieved 29 July 2016.
  28. ^ NOEMIE BISSERBE (31 July 2016). "European Prisons Fueling Spread of Islamic Radicalism". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 1 August 2016. Adel Kermiche, 19, wrote that he met his "spiritual guide" in the prison, where he was being detained for twice trying to travel to Syria, according to police, who reviewed messages he posted on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app. The "sheik," as Kermiche referred to him, "gave him ideas".
  29. ^ ALISSA J. RUBIN; AURELIEN BREEDEN (October 2016). "Women's Emergence as Terrorists in France Points to Shift in ISIS Gender Roles". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 October 2016. Ms. Hervouët is a convert to Islam, and she, too, wanted to go to Syria, Mr. Molins said. She left for Syria in March last year, but never got there because the Turkish authorities turned her back. Mr. Molins said that she had been betrothed first to the man who killed a police captain and his companion in June in Magnanville near Paris and then to Adel Kermiche
  30. ^ McBride, Jessica (28 July 2016). "Abdel-Malik Nabil Petitjean: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Heavy.com. Retrieved 27 March 2022.
  31. ^ "Officials in France Identify 2nd Man Who Attacked Church, Killing Priest". New York Times. 28 July 2016. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  32. ^ Willsher, Kim (28 July 2016). "Police were warned of Normandy attack but lacked detail to act". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  33. ^ "Priest's Slaying: 2nd Attacker Was Known Potential Radical". NBC News. Retrieved 27 March 2022.
  34. ^ "Prêtre égorgé: les tueurs se sont rencontrés sur Telegram". Le Figaro (in French). 31 July 2016. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
  35. ^ "Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray : les tueurs auraient été en contact avec un djihadiste français en Syrie". Le Figaro (in French). 18 August 2016.
  36. ^ Vincent, Élise (12 August 2016). "Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray : un suspect mis en examen et écroué" [Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray: a suspect indicted and imprisoned]. Le Monde (in French). Retrieved 13 August 2016.
  37. ^ "Il prete amico dell'imam che non-voleva andare in pensione". Corriere della Sera. 26 July 2016. Retrieved 29 July 2016.
  38. ^ Tornielli, Andrea (27 July 2016). "Christian martyrdom and the thirst for a "holy war"". Vatican Insider - La Stampa. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  39. ^ "Priest killings in the world: the escalation of martyrdom". Vatican Insider - La Stampa. 27 July 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  40. ^ Farmer, Ben; Chazan, David; Holehouse, Matthew; Finnigan, Lexi (27 July 2016). "France church attack: Second Normandy priest killer named". The Telegraph.
  41. ^ Laura Mowat. "Why did no one act? Normandy Catholic church was on ISIS terror 'hit list' found last year". The Express. Retrieved 2 October 2016. These included the Sacre-Couer basilica in Paris, and places of worship including the one in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray targeted today.
  42. ^ "Deux terroristes se réclamant de Daech, selon François Hollande (Réactions)". L'Indépendant.
  43. ^ Valls, Manuel. "status". Twitter. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  44. ^ Premier. "Church attack: Vatican condemns "barbarous killing" - premier".
  45. ^ "Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz: It is the hour, we have been waiting for three years". krakow2016.com. 27 July 2016.
  46. ^ "Pope's adviser says murdered French priest could be declared martyr". Vatican Insider - La Stampa. 28 July 2016. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  47. ^ "France church attack: Prayer, solidarity and Christian imagery on social media". BBC. 26 July 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  48. ^ "Muslims Refuse To Bury Priest Killer Kermiche", from Sky News
  49. ^ "Muslims Attend Catholic Mass Across France in Powerful Show of Unity". HuffPost. 31 July 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  50. ^ "The post-terror 'good news' story came from Islam's most persecuted sect". Spectator. 1 August 2016. Archived from the original on 2 August 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  51. ^ "Quran copies desecrated at Mater Dei hospital". Times of Malta. 30 July 2016. Archived from the original on 31 July 2016.
  52. ^ ALISSA J. RUBIN, AURELIEN BREEDEN (3 February 2017). "Assailant Near Louvre Is Shot by French Soldier". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 February 2017. In just the past 13 months, there have been at least four attacks in France using knives, including one instance in which an off-duty police officer and wife were stabbed to death by a man who then filmed himself claiming allegiance to the Islamic State, broadcasting the video on Facebook. In St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray, a small town in Normandy, a 19-year-old man slit the throat of an elderly priest as he was saying Mass last July. The young man and an accomplice, who were fatally shot by the police, had proclaimed allegiance to the Islamic State just before the murder.