France’s Hollande said church attackers had pledged allegiance to Isis

The victim killed on Tuesday has been identified as an 84 year-old priest, Father Jacques Hamel.

French President Francois Hollande (R) speaks with a French fireman as he arrives in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray after a hostage-taking at a church on 26 July 2016 left a priest dead. Picture: AFP

SAINT-ETIENNE-DU-ROUVRAY - A priest in his mid-80s was killed with a knife and another hostage seriously wounded on Tuesday in an attack on a church in northern France carried out by assailants linked to Islamic State.

Both attackers were shot dead by French police. Five people in all had been taken hostage. A police source said it appeared that the priest had his throat slit.

French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday the two hostage takers were terrorists who had pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

"Daesh has declared war on us, we must fight this war by all means, while respecting the rule of law, what makes us a democracy," he told reporters at the scene in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, south of Rouen, using an Arab acronym for the Islamist extremist group.

Speaking at the scene of the attack in the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Hollande said France should "use all its means" in its war against the militant group, against which France has launched air strikes in Syria and Iraq.

The president called it a "dreadful terrorist attack" and told reporters the attackers had pledge allegiance to IS. The IS news agency Amaq said two of its "soldiers" had carried out the attack.

"We are put to the test yet again," Hollande said. "The threat remains very high."

The attack is the latest in a string of deadly assaults in Europe, including the mass killing in Nice, southern France, on Bastille Day and four incidents in Germany.

Many of the attacks have had links to Islamist militants and IS has called for supporters to target countries that it has been fighting, mainly in Iraq and Syria.

SLAIN PRIEST

The Archbishop of Rouen identified the slain priest as Father Jacques Hamel and said he was 84, although others sources suggest he was born in 1930. The Vatican condemned what it said was a "barbarous killing".

French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told France Info radio that the perpetrators have been killed by France's BRI, an elite police anti-crime force, when they came out of the church.

Bomb squad officers aided by sniffer dogs scoured the church for any possible explosives.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls branded the attack "barbaric" and said it was a blow to all Catholics and the whole of France.

"We will stand together," Valls said on Twitter.

The attack will heap yet more pressure on Hollande to regain control of national security, with France already under a state of emergency 10 months ahead of a presidential election.