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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 5 March 2021

Nice mourns after attack by 'warped terrorist'

Outpouring of grief amid calls for unity to defeat terrorism

Nice has been here before and the outcome hauntingly close to a replay as the coastal city was left to mourn its dead.

As in 2016, when 86 people were murdered on the city’s elegant seafront, the Promenade des Anglais, the suspect was Tunisian.

Despite the much lower loss of life in Thursday’s multiple stabbing at the Notre-Dame basilica, the immediate impact was strangely comparable.

Then, as now, some of the most powerful messages from the city came from its Muslim residents.

Our beloved Prophet would never have authorised this heinous act

Otmane Aissaoui

Otmane Aissaoui, vice president of the Nice-based Muslim Regional Council, urged Muslims in the city and throughout France not to allow themselves to be “equated to this warped immigrant terrorist” on Friday.

“We have nothing to do with it,” he said. “Our beloved Prophet would never have authorised this heinous act. We must reassure Muslims, our fellow citizens and our Christian brothers and sisters. We must remain united, this is the only way to defeat terrorism. Today I tell you, I am a Christian.”

People of all faiths and none gathered at the basilica, a neo-Gothic building that dominates the centre or the city, to light candles and lay flowers in homage to the three people who died.

One group stood outside and sang the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.

At the Allianz Riviera stadium hours after the attack, footballers wore black armbands as the city's team played and won.

People pay tribute at night in front of Notre Dame Basilica in Nice, France. Getty Images
People pay tribute at night in front of Notre Dame Basilica in Nice, France. Getty Images

Brahim Aouissaoui, 21, the man arrested after the stabbings, had entered France after crossing the Mediterranean to Italy in late September.

After quarantine he was ordered to leave but not detained and he made his way to Nice by train without so much as a check.

Brahim Aouissaoui, 21, the man arrested after the stabbings, had entered France after crossing the Mediterranean to Italy in late September. AFP
Brahim Aouissaoui, 21, the man arrested after the stabbings, had entered France after crossing the Mediterranean to Italy in late September. AFP

One consequence of attacks by Islamist terrorists in France is that ordinary Muslims find themselves the targets of abuse and suspicion. The hatred can embrace extreme forms, with calls on social media – until the messages are detected and deleted - for retaliatory attacks on mosques.

The Mediterranean coastline of France, and its hinterland, has a large number of people of Maghrebin origin.

Tunisian shame over 'intolerable act'

After the lorry attack in 2016, Ridha Louafi, then president of the Cote d’Azur Association of Tunisians and a resident of France since 1980, told The National: “I am ashamed as a Tunisian of this revolting, cowardly and intolerable act of barbarity.

“Tunisians and other Maghrebins are among the victims, too, and they are casualties twice over because of the way people will now regard them, as if they were somehow responsible for the terrible actions of one individual.”

His words were echoed by the association on the fourth anniversary of the atrocity in July, when it posted a message sharing “heartfelt thoughts with families affected for life by this infamous barbarism”.

Now Nice is grieving for three more blameless individuals, murdered for being where they were, inside a Christian place of worship that one man had decided to attack.

Vincent Loquès, the sacristan at Notre-Dame who would have been 55 had he lived one more day, was described by fellow-parishioners as devoted to the church. “He would spend the day there,” one told Nice-Matin. “He was very calm – he helped, he served, he gave.”

A 44-year-old Brazilian woman, Simone Baretto Silva, a mother-of-three living in France, staggered to a cafe after being attacked inside the church. Her dying words were: “Tell my children I love them.” The body of the other female victim, aged 60, was found beside the font.

For the centre-right mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, again having to speak on behalf of his city after a terrorist outrage, France could now be driven to make life less free.

The 'virus of Islam-fascism'

Mr Estrosi said France was “paying for 40 years of cowardice" and may have to amend its constitution.

"France seems a little too much like the country and the symbol of freedoms,” he said on Europe 1 radio. “Now I think that we have to attack some of these freedoms. With Covid-19, we deprived the French of a certain number of freedoms, to which they agreed, to fight against the virus.”

Left: Vincent Loques, right: Simone Barreto Silva. Two of the three victims of Thursday's attack. Twitter/Reuters
Left: Vincent Loques, right: Simone Barreto Silva. Two of the three victims of Thursday's attack. Twitter/Reuters

Demanding a more muscular response to terrorism, the mayor warned that “the virus of Islam-fascism” could otherwise develop into a new pandemic.

In a more poignant expression of the effects of terrorism, the Catholic bishop of Nice, Monseigneur Andre Marceau, admitted he was unsure of the value of organising special tributes to the victims.

“Tributes are something we do a lot,” he told the France Bleue Provence radio station. “There will be a celebration of reparation, a celebration of remembrance, certainly, when it is possible. But you know, we march and the next day, we stop thinking about it."

Updated: October 30, 2020 09:28 PM

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