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'Kind, shy and dedicated', Fr Jacques Hamel is the 236th victim of jihadists in France since 2015

The so-called Islamic State group said today’s attack was carried out by its ‘soldiers’.

THE ELDERLY FRENCH priest who was killed by two men who claimed to be acting on behalf of the so-called Islamic State has been described as a “kind” and “shy” man by those who knew him.

Fr Jacques Hamel (86) was nominally retired for the last ten years but his dedication meant that he continued to serve his parish in the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray. He was killed today while saying mass.

Hamel was born in 1930 in Darnetal, a nearby town, and has been praised today by those who attended his masses.

Philippe Benoist, a deacon at Sotteville-lès-Rouen told Liberation that Fr Hamel was a man,

Who always had a smile. He  always found a way to chat. It was a very open character. He was a gentleman, someone to listen, who knew what to say to do good.

France Hostage Taking Flowers and a message are placed at the home of Father Jacques Hamel. Source: Francois Mori

A parishioner also told the newspaper that he was “a shy man”.

There was not much talk about him. He was an educated man who could laugh from time to time but always in small groups.

The killing of Fr Hamel makes him the 236th person to die in jihadist attacks in France since the beginning of last year.

This is the first such attack on a church on French soil since the emergence of Islamic State.

Here is what we know so far about the latest bloodshed:

What happened?

Two men arrived at the 17th century Eglise Saint-Etienne church during morning mass, storming the building and taking five hostages inside.

During the siege they killed Fr Hamel in his 80s by slitting his throat and seriously injured another captive.

Sister Danielle, a nun who was in the church at the time, said the slain priest was wearing his white cloaks and was at the foot of the altar when “they forced him to get on his knees and not move”.

He tried to struggle, He knew what was happening.

She said the men were speaking Arabic and shouting and had “recorded” the attack. She managed to run away and alert the police.

Some 65% France’s population identify as Catholics, according to the Ifop polling centre.

The country’s second largest religion, Islam, has just five million followers.

France Hostage Taking General view of the church where the priest was killed in today's attack. Source: Francois Mori

Taken down by police

As the two attackers made to leave the church they were confronted by French police and were shot dead.

Three of the hostages were freed unharmed.

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Who were the attackers?

The Islamic State group has said that the two assailants were its “soldiers,” an IS-linked news agency reported.

“The perpetrators of the Normandy church attack are soldiers of the Islamic State who carried out the attack in response to calls to target countries of the Crusader coalition,” the Amaq news agency said.

One of the two attackers had been charged with terror links and held before being freed on bail, a source close to the investigation said.

France Hostage Taking Armed police stand guard as a search operation continues in Normandy. Source: AP/Press Association Images

The assailant, who was known to France’s anti-terrorism police, tried twice to go to Syria in 2015.

After his release, he had to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet that allows police to locate him at all times.

He had already threatened to attack a church, according to witness testimony collected in his neighbourhood.

“We knew he wanted to go to Syria,” a 60-year-old neighbour of the assailant’s family, who added that he “never saw him go to the mosque” that he attended.

Little is known at this stage about the other attacker.

With reporting by © – AFP 2016

Read: Men who killed 84-year-old priest in church “claimed to be from Islamic State” >

Read: Two more arrests made in connection with Nice attacks >

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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