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Tensions Rise In France As The Country Faces Another Act Of Violence

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In France, people are on high alert after another act of violence. This morning in the city of Nice, a man killed three people with a knife in a Catholic church before he was shot and injured by police. French President Emmanuel Macron has condemned the attacks on churchgoers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).

SHAPIRO: Once again, he said, France is being attacked because of its values. And he said France would never compromise on them. This comes just two weeks after a teacher near Paris was beheaded for showing a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad. Macron promised to increase security around places of worship and other sites. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joins us from Paris. Hi, Eleanor.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: How are French people and particularly Catholics reacting to today's attack in the church?

BEARDSLEY: Well, people are totally shocked and horrified. And, yes, this is a Catholic country. But even if you're not very religious, it's historically and culturally Catholic. And there are centuries-old basilicas and cathedrals and churches all over the country. And the thought of being attacked in a church is unthinkable. And, you know, freedom of religion is one of France's principle values that it defends. And I think this goes way beyond religion. The whole country is really stunned.

SHAPIRO: Are authorities in France linking the attack in Nice to the killing of the French schoolteacher by an 18-year-old near Paris two weeks ago?

BEARDSLEY: Yes, they are. Everything is being linked. You know, Macron says today France is under attack. And the French do feel that this is very much an attack on their long-cherished freedoms, free speech, secularism and even, you know, their tradition of caricatures. So the attacker today is a Tunisian who came into Europe through Italy in September. The 18-year-old Chechen who beheaded the schoolteacher, he was a refugee as well. He was radicalized. And he beheaded that teacher because the teacher showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in his civics class on free speech.

SHAPIRO: I know that this has had international implications. Tell us about what the repercussions have been between France and the Muslim world.

BEARDSLEY: Well, right. So these cartoons are being brought to the world's attention again. And when that teacher was - he was given a national ceremony. And Macron gave the eulogy. And in that, he said, France will never give up its freedoms or its cartoons, he said. And that provoked a lot of anger in the Muslim world. And in places where they have blasphemy laws, they don't have the same traditions and freedoms as in France. And Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he's accused Macron of persecuting French Muslims. And he called for a boycott of French products. So we've seen pictures of French cheeses being pulled off the shelves from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia.

SHAPIRO: France has the largest Muslim population in Europe. And so how is this violence and the response to it affecting that population and their relations with other people in France?

BEARDSLEY: Well, this is very difficult. Macron and his government vowed to crack down on Islamist radicals organizations. And they have shut one mosque, but they don't want to stigmatize the moderate, law-abiding Muslim population. I think for French Muslims, it's horrible for everyone, but they are just so shocked. I want to play for you what Mohammed Moussaoui, the president of France's top Muslim organization, said today when he spoke on television.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOHAMMED MOUSSAOUI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: So he says, we are saddened, horrified and wounded by this attack. He said, again, it's been a horrible eruption of terrorism in all of our lives. French Muslims say they respect French values. They are French. And they've called on French Muslims to reject this boycott as well. And today is actually the anniversary of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. And Moussaoui called on all French Muslims to cancel celebrations and to unite in grief and solidarity with their Catholic compatriots.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thanks, Eleanor.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.