French police investigating the terrorist attack in Nice have arrested three more men, bringing to six the number of people taken in for questioning.
A 29-year-old Tunisian man was arrested on Saturday at Grasse. Later two other men aged 63 and 25 were taken in for questioning from the same address. They join two men aged 33 and 35 picked up on Saturday and a 47-year-old still being held since Thursday.
Police say data from two telephones belonging to alleged attacker Brahim Aouissaoui and CCTV footage suggests he arrived in Nice late on Tuesday 27 October on a train from Rome, between 24-48 hours before the attack on Thursday morning.
He was filmed near the basilica on Wednesday and during the evening phoned his family living near Sfax in Tunisia to say he was in France and would be sleeping rough.
At 8.29 on Thursday he entered the Notre Dame de l’Assomption basilica and is accused of carrying out an attack that left 60-year-old worshipper Nadine Devillers and church sexton Vincent Loquès, 55, dead and Simone Barreto Silva, 44, with fatal injuries. Silva managed to run out of the basilica and collapsed in a nearby restaurant where she died.
As well as the large knife Aouissaoui allegedly used to kill the three, he had two more knives and a Qur’an in a backpack. He was shot several times by police who are still waiting to interview him in hospital where he is recovering from “serious injuries”.
French investigators are working with their counterparts in Italy and Tunisia. It is known Aouissaoui made the crossing from Tunisia to Lampedusa in Italy, arriving on 20 September, and spent a month in Covid-19 quarantine. He was in Bari in southern Italy on 9 October but after he was refused asylum, Aouissaoui disappeared.
On Sunday, Toussaint – All Saints Day – churches across France were under extra protection after the country’s security alert was raised to its highest level.
Christian Estrosi, the mayor of Nice, was due to attend a ceremony of “contemplation” on Sunday evening at the Notre Dame basilica.
In a number of cities, including Blois and Toulouse, Muslims were present for mass as a mark of respect for the victims of last week’s attack.
Lahouary Siali, an imam in Toulouse, said they also wished to “reject the jihadis”.
“These people have no spirit or reason and want to make another interpretation [of the Qur’an] that we firmly reject. We have not mandated anyone, and given no power of attorney to anyone to speak on our behalf. In the name of what philosophy, what spirituality have you come to take the lives of innocent people?” Siali told AFP.
After Thursday’s attack a group of young Muslims in Lodève, in the Hérault west of Montpellier, turned out to symbolically protect their local Saint-Fulcran cathedral saying they were fed up with being stigmatised and “insulted on social media”.
“We are French, we were born and have grown up at Lodève, a place where different communities live together. There’s a cathedral and a mosque and never any problems between religions,” said Elyazid, who organised the gathering.
On Sunday, the French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, said Aouissaoui had “clearly come [to France] to kill”. “He was only present on our national territory for a few hours. He’d clearly come to kill. Otherwise how do you explain he had only just arrived and he had several knives?” Darmanin told La Voix du Nord newspaper.
“Of course it’s for the anti-terrorist prosecutor to establish how his murderous project was planned, but he clearly didn’t come to obtain [asylum] papers,” the minister added. He said France had sent “hundreds of extra police” to the Italian border, but added: “Unlike the far right, I don’t wish to see a terrorist in every foreigner.”
The recent attacks in France have led to a reported spate of vandalism against mosques in France. Two people were arrested over the weekend after being caught spraying graffiti on the mosque at Panitin in Seine-Saint-Denis, which has been closed for six months for broadcasting a video criticising Samuel Paty’s course in which he showed pupils caricatures of the prophet Muhammad.
In Rouen, four mosques reported received threatening letters following the Nice attack. Further south in the Drôme, a Muslim prayer hall was tagged with crosses.