(CNSNews.com) – French President Francois Hollande was due to hold emergency talks with religious leaders on Wednesday as France grapples with how to protect places of worship after Islamic terrorists took hostages in a Catholic church in Normandy during morning Mass and murdered an elderly priest.
The attack in St.-Étienne-Du-Rouvray by two men claiming allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) was the latest in a spate of violent assaults in Europe and beyond.
It came 15 months after a foiled plot on a church in Paris deepened concerns that radical Muslims sent or inspired by ISIS or other extremist groups would turn their attention to churches in the West. (Terrorists have targeted churches in countries like Iraq and Pakistan for years.)
On that earlier occasion, an Algerian arrested in Paris on suspicion of killing a woman was found to have been in contact with a jihadist in Syria about carrying out an attack on a church in the Paris suburb of Villejuif. Police found handguns, an AK47, bullet-proof vests, and ISIS and al-Qaeda documents.
According to France 24, there are some 45,000 Catholic parishes across France, in addition to approximately 4,000 Protestant, 2,600 evangelical and 150 Orthodox churches.
Of those, just over 1,200 have been given extra security since terrorists attacked the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher supermarket in January last year.
“Those places were selected by officials after consultation with police prefects and religious leaders at the local level, and are subject to regular review,” France 24 reported. “Measures range from simple patrols during religious services to round-the-clock surveillance.”
Hollande told Pope Francis in a phone call Tuesday that “everything will be done to protect our churches and places of worship.”
According to a French government statement the president also “restated France’s commitment to the defense of Christians in the East, and in these extremely sad and shocking circumstances, he expressed his wish for the spirit of togetherness to triumph over hatred.”
Christians and other religious minorities have borne the brunt of ISIS atrocities in Syria and Iraq – actions which the U.S. and several other governments have determined amount to genocide.
In its online propaganda, the terrorist group leaves no doubt that it considers Christians to be a primary foe, with Christian terms and symbols frequently used in describing the enemy.
The two most recent editions of the terrorist group’s Dabiq magazine, for instance, refer to “cross-worshippers,” “crusader Europe,” “crusader warplanes,” “crusader nations,” “crusader supporters,” “crusader Belgium,” “crusader coalition,” “American crusaders,” “crusader strategy” and “crusader borders.”
Although ISIS writings also cite other religious adherents, especially Jews but also Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Shi’a and other “apostates,” followers of Jesus appear to be particularly reviled.
“Every Muslim should get out of his house, find a crusader and kill him,” said one article.
“[T]he Islamic State is here to stay. It is a state that inflicts just terror against its infidel, pagan, and apostate enemies,” says another. “And it will continue to expand until its banner flutters over Constantinople and Rome. Until then, let the crusaders get used to the sound of explosion and the image of carnage in their very own homelands.”
The cover of an earlier edition of the magazine featured a photoshopped photo of the black ISIS flag flying over the Vatican. The jihadist group predicted that at some future point “the slave markets will commence in Rome by Allah’s power and might.”
“We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the permission of Allah, the Exalted,” the magazine quoted ISIS spokesman Mohammed al-Adnani as saying.
The anti-Christian creed is clearly presented as having its roots in the Qur’an and Hadiths – sayings or traditions ascribed to Mohammed – with some of the latter said by one Dabiq writer to “indicate that the Muslims will be at war with the Roman Christians.”
(One Hadith sometimes cited by radical jihadists says in part, “the Messenger of Allah said: I have been commanded to fight against people so long as they do not declare that there is no god but Allah ...”)
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said in response to Tuesday’s attack that “the Holy See was “particularly shocked because this horrible violence took place in a church, in which God’s love is announced, with the barbarous killing of a priest and the involvement of the faithful.”
“This is the face of evil,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). “To invade a sanctuary open to all – a place of worship and refuge – to kill and terrorize innocent people who devoted their lives to the teachings of Christ lays bare the barbarism of radical jihadism.”
“I am outraged for the families of the victims, for our ally France, for the Catholic Church, and for humanity,” Cotton said. “This attack joins a lengthening string of jihadist attacks around the world, and it should steel our collective resolve to defeat ISIS abroad before they attack us at home and put an end to this madness.”