Six arrested in connection with knife attack in French city of Nice

A policeman carries flowers in front of the Notre Dame church in tribute to the victims of a deadly knife attack in Nice, France.

Two more men were arrested in connection with a knife attack that left three dead at a church in Nice, bringing the number of people in custody to six as investigators look at the suspected assailant’s last known contacts, a French police source said.

The latest arrests took place on Saturday, the source said.

An assailant shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) beheaded a woman and killed two other people in a church in Nice, in France’s second deadly knife attack in two weeks.

At least two of the people in custody, including one Nice resident, were being investigated over suspected contacts with the attacker, judicial sources have said.

The latest arrests in the case involved two men from the town of Grasse, near the southern French coast close to Nice, BFM TV reported.

The suspected assailant was shot by police and is now in critical condition in a hospital.

President Emmanuel Macron has deployed thousands of soldiers to protect sites such as places of worship and schools, and ministers have warned that other Islamist militant attacks could take place.

The Nice attack, on the day Muslims celebrate the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday, came amid growing Muslim anger across the world over France’s defence of the right to publish cartoons depicting the prophet.

On October 16, Samuel Paty, a school teacher in a Paris suburb, was beheaded by an 18-year-old Chechen who was apparently incensed by the teacher showing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in class.

Protesters have denounced France in street rallies in several Muslim-majority countries, and some have called for boycotts of French goods.

An interview with Macron on the TV network Al Jazeera, in which he addresses some of these tensions, is due to air later on Saturday, the French president’s office said.

By reaching out directly to Muslim audiences, Macron is keen to counter what he sees as a misinterpretation of his recent statements on Islam and explain France’s often misunderstood secularist model, people close to him said.

Macron also spoke to Pope Francis on Friday, following the attack at the Notre-Dame Catholic basilica in Nice, the President’s office said, and discussed the importance of freedom of speech and of dialogue between religions.

“He (Macron) stated he would continue to fight against extremism so that all French people can express their faith in peace and without fear,” his office said.

France’s chief anti-terrorism prosecutor has said the man suspected of carrying out the Nice attack was a Tunisian born in 1999 who had arrived in Europe on September 20 in Lampedusa, the Italian island off Tunisia.

Investigators in Italy are also stepping up enquiries about the suspected assailant’s movements and contacts on the island of Sicily. They believe he may have spent time there after going from Lampedusa to Bari in early October on a ship used to quarantine migrants, judicial sources said.

In Bari, he is believed to have been handed an expulsion order obliging him to leave Italy within a week, the judicial sources said. Investigators are looking into the possibility the suspected attacker stayed in the Sicilian town of Alcamo for a 10 day period, the sources added.

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