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Church sexton among 3 killed in terror attack in France

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Knife-wielding man kills three in Nice in apparent jihadist attack

PARIS/NICE: As he did every day, the sexton of the Notre Dame church in the French city of Nice opened up the doors at around 8.30am (3.30pm, Singapore time) yesterday.

There were few people around; the first Mass of the day was not due to start for another two hours.

But at around 9am, a man armed with a knife entered the church and slit the throat of the sexton, partially beheaded an elderly woman, and badly wounded another woman who later died, according to a police source.

The sexton and the elderly woman died on the spot and the second woman managed to make it out of the church into a nearby cafe but died from her wounds, Nice mayor Christian Estrosi told reporters at the scene. None of the victims has so far been named in the latest in the latest jihadist attack to rock the country France.

The sexton - a lay member of staff responsible for the upkeep of the church - was in his late 40s or early 50s and had two children, said Reverend Gil Florini, a Catholic priest in Nice.

"He did his job as a sexton very well. He was a very kind person," said Rev Florini.

Testimony from witnesses, mobile phone footage, and accounts from officials offer an initial if incomplete picture of how the attack ended.

At some point during the attack, someone ran to a bakery next to the church, and asked staff to call the police.

"I thought it was a joke, I didn't believe it," said one of the staff in the bakery, who spoke to French broadcaster BFMTV and gave his name as David.

But when the person insisted the police should be called, David said he walked the short distance to the corner of Rue d'Italie and Avenue Jean Medecin, where last year local authorities installed an intercom in front of the church that connects directly to the municipal police.

Mr David said he pressed the button on the intercom and summoned the police.

The mayor, Mr Estrosi, who had attended last year's unveiling of the intercom, said this was how the police were first alerted to the attack.

Sometime during the attack, the knifeman came out of the church, according to Mr Didier-Olivier Reverdy of police officer's union Alliance Police Nationale.

"When the attacker came out, there was a kind of panic around the concourse" surrounding the church, said Mr Reverdy.

"There was blood visible."

Ms Anais Colomna was in the lawyer's office where she works, next to the church, when her phone call was interrupted by the sound of gunfire.

"When I turned around, I saw that they (the police) were firing at someone who was moving away from the church," she told Reuters. The man police were firing at then disappeared from view, she said.

Mr Estrosi said that, as the police were detaining the attacker, "he kept shouting on a loop, 'Allahu Akbar'."

The attacker, a 21-year-old Tunisian migrant, carried on shouting the phrase even after he was shot and wounded by police, Mr Estrosi said. - REUTERS