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The incident happened at Église Saint-Pierre-d’Arène de Nice, a Catholic Church along the French Riviera. French national and municipal police responded to the incident and placed the suspect under arrest.
France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin tweeted that the priest’s injuries were not life-threatening.
Eric Ciotti, a local French politician representing the 1st constituency of Alpes-Maritimes in the National Assembly, said the priest, identified as Father Christophe, was stabbed “several times” inside the church. Firefighters transported him to Hospital Pasteur, the university hospital in Nice, France.
Ciotti also praised the “extraordinary courage” of Sister Marie-Claude, who intervened while the attacker stabbed the priest. She was injured in the forearm while attempting to snatch the knife away.
Speaking with reporters at the scene, Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi described the suspect as a mentally unstable French national who was born in Fréjus, a port town on the Côte d’Azur in southeastern France.
Bernard Gonzalez, the prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes department of southeast France, added that according to the preliminary investigation, the suspect had no criminal record and was unknown to police services.
However, the individual was the subject of psychiatric monitoring with several stays in the Sainte- Marie psychiatric hospital in Nice, Gonzalez added.
Reuters reported that French cable channel BFM TV quoted police as saying the suspect was a 31-year-old French man and there was no suspicion of terror as being the motive. Estrosi said the suspect was known to have purchased the knife several days ago.
“I want to thank the emergency services and the police for their exemplary work, and I send all my thoughts to the faithful of the parish,” Estrosi tweeted.
The incident came as French citizens were at the polls for the second round of their presidential election Sunday. Voters will choose between French President Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen.