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France: Priest killed in ISIL-linked attack on church

Second victim "fighting for life" after police shoot dead two ISIL-linked hostage-takers at church in Normandy.

Saint Etienne-du-Rouvray

An 84-year-old priest has been killed with a knife, and another person seriously wounded, after two men with alleged links to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) took several people hostage in an attack on a church in northern France.

The priest reportedly had his throat slit on Tuesday before French police entered and shot dead the attackers, a French police source told the Reuters news agency.

The Paris-based AFP news agency, citing the ministry, said a second hostage was "fighting for life" after the incident in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy, but indicated the other three hostages had made it out unharmed.

Speaking outside the church, French President Francois Hollande called it a "dreadful terrorist attack" and told reporters the attackers had pledged allegiance to ISIL, also known as ISIS.

The ISIL-linked news agency Amaq said two of its "soldiers" had carried out the attack.

"We are put to the test yet again," Hollande said. "The threat remains very high."

Paris prosecutor's office said the case had been handed to "anti-terrorism" judges for investigation.

French police arrested one person in connection with the attack, a source close to the inquiry told Reuters on Tuesday afternoon.

The Vatican in a statement called the incident a "barbarous killing", saying it was even more heinous because it happened in a sacred place.

String of attacks

The attack comes as France is on high alert after an attack in Nice that killed 84 people and a string of deadly attacks last year claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.

The country is in a state of emergency and boosted visible police presence in the wake of attack in Nice this month.

The security measures have been extended four times since assailants, who pledged allegiance to ISIL, struck Paris in November, killing 130 people at restaurants, a concert hall and the national stadium.

The Nice massacre has triggered a bitter political spat over alleged security failings, with the government accused of not doing enough to protect the population.

Prime Minster Manuel Valls had warned earlier in the week that the country would face more attacks as it struggles to handle fighters returning from wars in the Middle East.

France has been concerned about the threat against churches ever since a foiled plot against one in the Paris suburb of Villejuif in April last year.

Sid Ahmed Ghlam, a 24-year-old Algerian IT student, was arrested in Paris on suspicion of killing a woman who was found shot dead in the passenger seat of her car, and of planning an attack on a church.

Prosecutors said they found documents about al-Qaeda and ISIL at his home, and that he had been in touch with suspected fighters in Syria about the plan to attack a church.

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