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French Authorities Investigate Another Gruesome Attack

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We are following reports this morning of another attack on the streets of France. Not quite two weeks ago, an 18-year-old man beheaded a teacher outside Paris before being shot dead by police. The alleged killer said he did so because the teacher had shown offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to his students. This new attack took place in the southern French city of Nice. And Eleanor Beardsley is following this from Paris.

Hi, Eleanor.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: What exactly happened in Nice, as far as we know?

BEARDSLEY: Well, a man with a knife stabbed and has killed three people and wounded several others. Two of the people were stabbed and killed inside the main basilica, the church in Nice, and one of the victims is said to have had their throat slit. Here is the mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, speaking this morning live on television.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTIAN ESTROSI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: So basically, David, he said France is paying a very heavy price. He said, once again, we are the victims of Islamofascism he called it. And he says there's no doubt that radical Islam is behind this attack. And he says one of the people killed was the guardian - the guard of the church.

GREENE: I got to ask you, we're hearing these other reports of a man shot dead near Avignon after threatening people with a gun. Also, a man attacked a guard at the French consulate in Saudi Arabia this morning. Any sense why this is all happening at once? Is there a connection here?

BEARDSLEY: Well, France is really being targeted, says President Macron and the interior minister, by radical Islamist forces. The context right now is that we have a trial going on for the Charlie Hebdo attacks. That's a satirical weekly news magazine where five years ago, two terrorist gunmen stormed an editorial meeting and killed 12 people, including a security guard. So the terrorists are dead, but 14 people are accused of helping them get weapons. And so that's going on right now. It's a two-month trial. And on the anniversary when it started the trial, Charlie Hebdo again published the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad and said, we will not back down from free speech. And, you know, we've had one violent act. A Pakistani man, a migrant, about a month ago attacked two people in front of the former offices of Charlie Hebdo, and they were not killed. And exactly two weeks ago today, a Chechen refugee, as you were speaking about - radicalized - beheaded a French teacher for showing these same caricatures in his class. Now, Macron, when he eulogized this teacher in a national ceremony, he said, we will not back down on our values of secularism, free speech and these cartoons. And that ignited a wave of anger led by the Turkish president, Erdogan, against France. And there's been calls in Muslim countries for a boycott of French goods. So that's the backdrop in which this is happening.

GREENE: And tell me more about the response from the French government at this point.

BEARDSLEY: Well, today, the man was wounded and he's being held. Macron is on his way to Nice. You know, Macron has a difficult job because he's got to crack down on these radical forces - they're talking about radical Islam - but at the same time not stigmatize the country's large Muslim population. France has - it could have 10% Muslim population. It's the largest in Europe. These people are law abiding. They respect, you know, secularism, French values. So he's got to crack down on radicals without stigmatizing them. And it's not an easy job.

GREENE: And of course, all this happening as France is dealing with a COVID outbreak as well as we're seeing across Europe.

BEARDSLEY: Exactly. We're in lockdown now for the next month.

GREENE: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reporting from Paris this morning. Eleanor, thanks, as always.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.