Three people dead in possible ‘terror’ incident in French city
“I confirm that everything suggests a terrorist attack in the Basilica of Notre-Dame in Nice,” he said.
He later told reporters that the Nice suspect kept shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) even after he had been arrested.
Estrosi also said French President Emmanuel Macron would visit Nice.
He said one victim suffered the same fate as Samuel Paty, the schoolteacher who was beheaded on the outskirts of France two weeks ago.
Police said several people were injured during the incident in France. Amateur footage from the scene shows armed police rushing into the church as ambulances arrive to help the wounded.
A police source had said earlier that one woman was decapitated. French politician Marine Le Pen also spoke of a decapitation having occurred in the attack.
Brendan Berne, who finished serving as Australia’s ambassador to France earlier this month and has moved to Nice, said he was at the church on Wednesday and that he was thinking of the victims.
The attack comes while France is still reeling after Paty, a high school teacher, was beheaded in Paris by Abdullah Anzorov, an 18-year-old Chechen-Russian.
The attacker had said he wanted to punish Paty for showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a civics lesson.
A motive for the Nice attack was not immediately clear, or if there was any connection to the cartoons, which Muslims consider to be blasphemous.
Tensions have been high this week amid an escalating political brawl over Macron’s plans to crack down on Islamic terrorism and his defence of magazines like Charlie Hebdo to publish cartoons and articles satirising Muslims.
Charlie Hebdo, the target of a deadly terrorist attack in Paris in 2015, on Wednesday published a cartoon showing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holding a beer while lifting the skirt of a woman wearing a hijab to reveal her naked buttocks.
Erdogan has accused Macron of being mentally unwell and has encouraged a boycott of French goods.
France recalled its ambassador from Turkey in response and advised its nationals to exercise caution in Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, where crowds protested outside the French embassy in Tehran. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that insulting the prophet would encourage “violence and bloodshed”.
Since Paty’s killing, French officials – backed by many ordinary citizens – have re-asserted the right to display the cartoons, and the images have been widely displayed at marches in solidarity with the killed teacher.
That has prompted an outpouring of anger in parts of the Muslim world, with some governments accusing Macron of pursuing an anti-Islam agenda.
The president of France’s Council for the Muslim Faith, Mohammed Moussaoui, condemned Thursday’s attack.
“As a sign of mourning and solidarity for the victims and their families, I call on all Muslims of France to cancel all festivities for Mawlid,” he said.
Mawlid celebrates the birth of the Prophet Mohammed.
The Nice incident is the 34th terrorist attack in France since the Charlie Hebdo assault of 2015. Some 263 people have died in those five years.
With Lynette Eyb and Reuters
Bevan Shields is the Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.