Priest killed and hostage seriously wounded in attack on church in France

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NORMANDY, France — A Catholic priest was killed during an attack on a church during morning mass in Normandy on Tuesday, church officials say, in the latest violent act to roil France.

The Rev. Jacques Hamel, 84, was killed when two men took five people hostage in the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Dominique Lebrun, the Archbishop of Rouen, said in a statement posted on the diocese website.

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.

The situation ended when the two attackers were shot dead by police, Brandet said.

“The two killers came out and they were neutralized,” he said.

The wounded hostage was treated at the scene, and the three other hostages freed, he said. Explosives experts are working to check if there are any bombs left at the scene.

Brandet said he couldn’t give any information on the weapons used or the motivations of the attackers.

But the Paris anti-terror prosecutor has taken over the investigation into the attack, France’s Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The latest killing comes on the back of a string of violent attacks across Europe in recent days, some claimed by the Sunni terror group ISIS, most notably an attack in the French city of Nice less than two weeks ago that left 84 dead.

France has been under a state of emergency since the Paris terror attacks in November last year.

Vatican condemns killing

The Vatican has condemned the attack, calling it “terrible news” on the back of a string of recent violent attacks in Europe. It said the Pope had been informed of the attack and shared the pain and horror in response to the “absurd violence.”

The statement said the violence was particularly horrific as it had taken place in a church, “a sacred place where the love of God is announced.”

Lebrun said in a statement that the “Catholic church cannot take up any other weapons but prayer and brotherhood among men.”

He called on the faithful “to lower their arms before violence and to become an apostle of a civilization of love.”

Other religious leaders were quick to condemn 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.”

Hollande to visit scene

French President Francois Hollande and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve are on their way to the scene, officials confirmed. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls tweeted his horror at the “barbaric attack” on the church, and vowed a defiant response.

A police cordon has been set up around the scene in the town, about 108 kilometers (67 miles) northwest of Paris.

A witness, Dominique Michot, told CNN that the hostage situation was underway when he arrived at his nearby workplace shortly before 10 a.m. local time (5 a.m. ET).

Michot, a baker who spoke to CNN from inside the police perimeter, said he heard several rifle bursts at about 10 a.m.