Rouen – A grandfather was forced to film two IS fanatics on a smartphone as they slaughtered an elderly French priest before they turned on him and repeatedly stabbed the 87-year-old.
Adel Kermiche and his accomplice Abdel Malik P, both 19, are believed to have been copying propaganda videos by the so-called Islamic State, which show their execution-style murders in graphic detail.
Horrified survivors of Tuesday’s attack in a French Catholic church described how two knifemen butchered the priest and left the other man fighting for life after shouting, “You Christians, you’re killing us” – a possible reference to France’s involvement in US-led coalition air strikes on IS strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
After killing Father Jacques Hamel, 85, slashing his neck, arms and back on the altar of the church in Normandy, they stabbed the grandfather, named only as “Guy”, four times.
He survived the onslaught only by playing dead but remains in intensive care.
His wife Jeanine, 86, gave a dramatic account of how a quiet Mass in the 17th Century church spiralled into appalling violence.
She and her husband and two nuns were taken hostage after the men seized the priest, shouting “Allahu Akbar” [God is great] and forcing him to kneel before them at the altar.
Jeanine told French radio that the two fanatics had said they would spare her and the nuns as they needed them as hostages, to be used as human shields.
She said: “One of the terrorists approached me. He said he was not going to hurt me because we were to be used as hostages. He said the same to the three nuns.
“So we thought, ‘Good, so we will not die immediately. Maybe we will die in an hour…’ But the terrorist said, as a man, my husband would not be spared.” She then watched in horror as the men seized Father Jacques and began slashing at him with knives.
She said: “First they put a sure thrust in his neck. He fell face towards the sky, towards us. You could see blood running from his mouth. Then they knifed him again and again and it was done.
“They’d given the phone to my husband to film or photograph the Father. Then they took my husband and did the same to him. They wanted to kill him the same as the priest.
“So to stay alive and not attract more attention from them, he played dead. I looked at him and thought he was dead and that it was going to be our turn next.
“The terrorists held me from behind with a gun in my neck. I don’t know if it was fake. Then they sharpened the knife.’
Jeanine said she had seen her husband in hospital and that he was conscious, although seriously injured. The attacks happened on his 87th birthday, she said, and the couple’s grandchildren and other family members have visited him in hospital.
A nun who managed to escape from the church said Father Jacques was kneeling at the altar in prayer when the knifemen seized him.
Sister Danielle Delafosse said the handful of churchgoers at the Mass had pleaded for mercy for the priest: “Everyone was shouting, ‘Stop, you don’t know what you’re doing.’ But they didn’t stop.”
The men spoke in Arabic, apparently preaching around the altar as their terrified victim knelt at their feet, she said. The nun told French broadcasters: ‘He tried to struggle. He sensed what was happening, he knew what was going to happen.’
Sister Danielle said she escaped as the men began attacking the priest and flagged down a passing motorist, using his phone to call police.
Armed officers surrounded the church, and when the jihadis later burst out, shouting “Allahu Akbar”, they were shot dead. Prosecutors said the pair were armed with knives, an old pistol that did not work and fake explosives, including a dummy suicide belt covered in tin foil.