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Hostage: Normandy Church Attackers Made My Husband Film Execution of Priest

PARIS (AP) — France’s main religious leaders sent a message of unity and solidarity after meeting Wednesday with French President Francois Hollande a day after two extremists attacked a Catholic church and slit the throat of an elderly priest in front of other hostages.

Yet even as they spoke, more horrifying details of the church attack became known.

French policemen stand in the street during a search in a house on July 26, 2016 in the Normandy village of Saint-Etienne du Rouvray after a priest was killed in the latest of a string of attacks against Western targets claimed by or blamed on the Islamic State jihadist group. French President said that two men who attacked a church and slit the throat of a priest had 'claimed to be from Daesh', using the Arabic name for the Islamic State group. Police said they killed two hostage-takers in the attack in the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, 125 kilometres (77 miles) north of Paris. / AFP / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

French policemen stand in the street during a search in a house on July 26, 2016 in the Normandy village of Saint-Etienne du Rouvray after a priest was killed in the latest of a string of attacks against Western targets claimed by or blamed on the Islamic State jihadist group. French President said that two men who attacked a church and slit the throat of a priest had ‘claimed to be from Daesh’, using the Arabic name for the Islamic State group. Police said they killed two hostage-takers in the attack in the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, 125 kilometres (77 miles) north of Paris. / AFP / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

An 86-year-old woman, one of five held hostage Tuesday at the Normandy church, said the attackers had handed her husband Guy a cellphone and demanded that he take photos or video of the priest after he was killed. Her husband was in turn slashed in four places by the attackers and is now hospitalized with serious injuries.

The attackers took hostages at the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, in France’s northwest region of Normandy, during morning Mass. After the priest was slain, both attackers, at least one of them a local man, were killed by police outside the church. The exact timeline of the attack is still unclear.

The elderly woman identified only as Jeanine told RMC radio that her husband played dead to stay alive. Two nuns were held hostage along with the couple and the priest, while a third nun escaped and gave the alert.

This photo taken on July 26, 2016 shows a partial view of the Saint-Etienne church in the Normandy city of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray where a priest was killed today in the latest of a string of attacks against Western targets claimed by or blamed on the Islamic State jihadist group. French President said that two men who attacked a church and slit the throat of a priest had 'claimed to be from Daesh', using the Arabic name for the Islamic State group. Police said they killed two hostage-takers in the attack in the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, 125 kilometres (77 miles) north of Paris. / AFP / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

This photo taken on July 26, 2016 shows a partial view of the Saint-Etienne church in the Normandy city of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray where a priest was killed today in the latest of a string of attacks against Western targets claimed by or blamed on the Islamic State jihadist group. French President said that two men who attacked a church and slit the throat of a priest had ‘claimed to be from Daesh’, using the Arabic name for the Islamic State group. Police said they killed two hostage-takers in the attack in the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, 125 kilometres (77 miles) north of Paris. / AFP / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

France was still coming to grips with the Bastille Day attack in Nice that killed 84 people when the church was attacked Tuesday. With the attack threat ranked extremely high, France must also protect 56 remaining summer events, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve noted Wednesday, adding that where “optimal” security cannot be assured, an event will be canceled.

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said 4,000 members of the military force called Sentinel will patrol Paris, while 6,000 will patrol in the provinces. They are bolstered by tens of thousands of police and reservists being called up.

Hollande, meanwhile, presided over a defense council and cabinet meeting Wednesday in Paris after speaking with Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish leaders.

The archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, called on Catholics to “overcome hatred that comes in their heart” and not to “enter the game” of the Islamic State group that “wants to set children of the same family upon each other.”

The rector of the main Paris mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, said France’s Muslims must push for better training of Muslim clerics and urged that reforming French Muslim institutions be put on the agenda. He did not elaborate.

As authorities looked for ways to prevent extremist attacks, gruesome details of the church attack trickled out.

The attackers killed the priest celebrating Mass, the Rev. Jacques Hamel, 85.

A woman mourns in front of the house of Father Jacques Hamel on July 27, 2016 in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, where the priest was killed the day before in the latest of a string of attacks against Western targets claimed by or blamed on the Islamic State jihadist group. Father Jacques Hamel, a semi-retired assistant parish priest, had his throat slit in a church in northern France on July 26, 2016, after two men stormed the building and took hostages. As the two attackers made to leave the church they were confronted by a French police unit specialising in hostage situations, the BRI, and were shot dead. (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman mourns in front of the house of Father Jacques Hamel on July 27, 2016 in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, where the priest was killed the day before in the latest of a string of attacks against Western targets claimed by or blamed on the Islamic State jihadist group. Father Jacques Hamel, a semi-retired assistant parish priest, had his throat slit in a church in northern France on July 26, 2016, after two men stormed the building and took hostages. As the two attackers made to leave the church they were confronted by a French police unit specialising in hostage situations, the BRI, and were shot dead. (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

“He fell down looking upwards, toward us,” said Jeanine, the ex-hostage, who said they forced her husband to then take pictures or video.

“The terrorists held me with a revolver at my neck,” she said, adding it was not clear to her now whether the weapon was real or fake.

The Paris prosecutor, Francois Molins, said the two attackers had knives and fake explosives – one a phony suicide belt covered in tin foil. He identified one of the attackers as Adel Kermiche, a 19-year-old who grew up in the town and tried to travel to Syria twice last year using family members’ identity documents. He was detained outside France, sent home, handed preliminary terrorism charges and wore a tracking bracelet that was turned off four hours a day.

The identity of the second attacker has not been made public. Police combing the area after the attack detained a 16-year-old whom Molins said was the younger brother of a young man who traveled to the Syria-Iraq zone of the Islamic State group carrying the ID of Kermiche.

Young and old in the Normandy town were stunned by the attack.

An 18-year-old neighbor said he had seen Kermiche just three days earlier in nearby Rouen wearing a long Islamic robe.

When he heard about the attack, “I knew it was him, I was sure,” the young man told The Associated Press, identifying himself as Redwan. Kermiche had told him and other youth about his efforts to get to Syria and “he was saying we should go there and fight for our brothers.”

“We were saying that is not good and he was replying that France is the land of unbelievers,” Redwan said.

Candles were set out in front of the town hall as residents called for unity.

“It’s going to be hard to admit it … we are scared …,” said Mulas Arbanu. “Be we Christians, Muslims, anything, we have to be together.”

Said Aid Lahcen had met the slain priest in the past.

“From the moment when you touch a religion, you attack the nation, and you attack a people. We must not get into divergences, but stay united people as we were before,” he said.

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