Nice’s municipal police chief has described how his officers confronted and shot the knifeman who killed three people in the city basilica on Thursday morning.
Local officers have been praised for their quick reaction in confronting 21-year-old Tunisian Brahim Aouissaoui who had entered the church around 8.29am.
The attack lasted 28 minutes and left two people dead – one of them a 60-year-old woman who was almost decapitated, the other the 55-year-old church sexton – and a third victim, a 44-year-old woman fatally injured. Officers at the scene described it as a “vision of horror”.
Richard Gianotti, the Nice municipal police chief, said six of his officers were inside the basilica “quasi instantly” after the alarm was raised.
A police patrol was passing the basilica at the time and was approached by a person who came out of the church saying someone had been “seriously stabbed”, he said. The first patrol was quickly joined by reinforcements. One police team went into the main entrance and a second team entered the Notre Dame church via the sacristy door.
“Those that went in the main entrance saw the 60-year-old woman who was stabbed on the ground, those who went into the sacristy came immediately across the man who was holding a knife,” Gianotti told BFMTV.
“He had just killed three people, he was shouting Allahu Akbar. One officer shot but missed him. It was done in legitimate defence.
“The man continued to advance and a second police officer shot at him and brought him down, neutralised him.”
Gianotti said only two officers had used their guns, and they had shot around 10 times.
“He was neutralised on the ground. The only words he pronounced were Allahu Akbar.”
Gianotte said at the time his officers had no idea if the attacker was wearing a suicide vest or had an accomplice.
“We checked him on the ground, he was not wearing a vest. Rapidly a second municipal police team arrived with a national police team.
“It’s hard to imagine but it happened very quickly, in three or four minutes,” the police director said.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, was among those who acknowledged the bravery of the local police, who went in to confront the assailant rather than wait for national police or any specialist intervention unit.
“When they entered [the basilica] they were going into the unknown. They took measure of the situation and the legal framework of such an intervention … it was a situation of legitimate defence, and they knew they could fire their weapons,” Gianotte said.
“They saved lives by being at the scene quasi instantaneously,” he added.
Nice police are “very well-equipped”, Gianotti said, with bulletproof vests, the means to fire rubber bullets, and armed with semi-automatic 9mm Glock pistols with 15 bullets.