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France moves to ‘emergency’ alert after three killed in church attack

Terror alert: Security forces guard the area after a knife attack was reported at the Notre Dame church in Nice, France PICTURE: REUTERS

FRANCE’S prime minister has said the country is moving to the maximum ‘emergency’ alert level after the killing of three people at a church in the southern city of Nice.

A man armed with a knife attacked two women and a man at the Notre Dame Basilica this morning before he was shot by police.

As he lay wounded, Nice’s mayor said the attacker repeated ‘Allah Akbar!’ (God is greater) over and over. French authorities have opened a terrorism investigation.

Prime minister Jean Castex told French lawmakers that the country would raise its alert level to ‘emergency’ in response to the attack.

The suspect was believed to be acting alone and police are not searching for other attackers, an official said.

French president Emmanuel Macron has announced that he will more than double the number of soldiers deployed to protect against terror attacks.

Mr Macron’s decision to increase deployments from around 3,000 to 7,000 came hours after the stabbings in Nice.

The killings put France on its highest level of alert and come at a time of extreme tension over the republication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Emergency: Mayor of Nice Christian Estrosi gives a statement outside the basilica PICTURE: REUTERS

Images on French media showed the neighbourhood locked down and surrounded by police and emergency vehicles. The killings took place less than half a mile from the site in 2016 where another attacker drove a truck into a Bastille Day crowd, killing dozens.

Sounds of explosions could be heard as sappers exploded suspicious objects.

Later in the morning in the southern city of Avignon an armed man was shot dead by police after he refused to drop his weapon and a Taser shot failed to stop him, a police official said.

And a Saudi state-run news agency said a man stabbed a guard at the French consulate in Jiddah, wounding the guard before he was arrested. It was not immediately clear if the incidents were linked to the attack in Nice.

Investigation: French president Emmanuel Macron visits the scene of the attack in Nice PICTURE: REUTERS

There have been increased tensions in France over caricatures of Mohammed published by satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, and after two other recent attacks in the country with links to the cartoons.

Less than two weeks ago, an attacker decapitated a French middle school teacher who showed cartoons of Mohammed for a class on free speech. Those caricatures were published by Charlie Hebdo and cited by the men who gunned down the newspaper’s editorial meeting in 2015.

In September, a man who had sought asylum in France attacked bystanders outside Charlie Hebdo’s former offices with a butcher knife.

The lower house of parliament suspended a debate on new virus restrictions and held a moment of silence today for the victims.

Caricatures: Forensic experts inspect the scene of the knife attack PICTURE: AP

Nice’s mayor Christian Estrosi said the attacker shouted ‘Allahu akbar!’ repeatedly as police apprehended him and that ‘the meaning of his gesture left no doubt’.

He appealed to the citizens of Nice to remain united.