Three people have been killed and others injured in what police described as a terrorist attack at the Notre Dame basilica in the southern French city of Nice on Thursday.
A man armed with a knife attacked people inside the church around 9 a.m. local time, killing a woman and a man, French police confirmed to NBC News.
A third victim, another woman, ran from the church seeking refuge in a cafe, shop but was hunted down and killed, police added. Several others have been wounded, police said.
It comes almost two weeks after an 18-year-old Chechen refugee decapitated a school teacher, who had shown pupils controversial Charlie Hebdo caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad during a civics class debate on freedom of expression. The caricatures are considered blasphemous by Muslims.
The suspect was shot and taken to hospital, the police added.
The police confirmed that the incident was being treated as a terrorist attack and that the national anti-terrorist public prosecutor’s department is now officially in charge of the investigation.
National and local police are at the scene as well as bomb squads.
The Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, tweeted Thursday that the suspect had been arrested and that all indicated that it was a terrorist attack inside the Notre Dame basilica in the center of the city.
He also appears to add that one of the victims of the attack was a caretaker at the church who was well-liked among parishioners. NBC News could not immediately verify this report.
Estrosi added that he had spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron on the phone and said he would visit Nice on Thursday.
France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said he was holding a crisis meeting at the Interior Ministry. Local police tweeted that there was an operation underway in the Notre Dame area in central Nice.
Thursday’s assault marked the third attack since the opening in September of a terrorism trial in the January 2015 killings at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket.
In September, a man attacked bystanders outside Charlie Hebdo’s former offices with “a butcher’s knife.” France had been bracing itself for another terror attack.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday France warned its citizens in several Muslim-majority countries to take extra security precautions on Tuesday as anger surged over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.
This is a breaking news story. Please check back in for updates.