Attack in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray: ‘We don’t understand – why here?’

Police officers in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray on Tuesday.
Police officers in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray on Tuesday.


Two men claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group killed a priest and seriously injured another person in a church on Tuesday in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, a suburb of Rouen in Normandy. Our Observer, who describes his town of 30,000 residents as a quiet one where different communities coexist in peace, was taken aback by the attack.

“The priest often lent a room in the church for other religious communities to use”

Kalminthe Gomis, 39, is an entrepreneur who runs a Facebook page on which residents of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray discuss local events. He currently lives in Rouen, but spends a lot of his time in the suburb where he grew up and where his parents live.

Our family is Catholic. My mother goes to this church every day. Luckily, she’s currently on vacation in her native country, Senegal, so she wasn’t there today. I spent a lot of time at the church when I was younger, where I took part in youth activities, but these days I mainly go there for weddings, baptisms and holidays. Many of the churchgoers are of African origin, and there’s always a big turnout for Sunday mass.

The priest who was killed, father Jacques Hamel, was a very kind man, very involved in the local community. Whenever members of other religious communities – be they Catholic or Muslim – needed spaces for their activities, he would offer them the use of a room in the church.

"I was worried that an attack could take place in the centre of Rouen, if anything, but I never thought it would happen here"

There’s a Muslim prayer room near the church, and there have never been any tensions between the two communities – we pray separately, but we say hello to each other, we smile. When I was little, my Muslim friends were often invited along on youth activities organised through the church. And today different communities truly coexist in peace in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray. For a long time, I worked as an educator in a youth centre, and I never heard any of the kids expressing radical leanings.

That’s why it’s really difficult for us to understand why something like this has happened here. I was worried that an attack could take place in the centre of Rouen, if anything, but I never thought it would happen here… and even less that it would be carried out against a church whose members are so diverse, a church that stands in solidarity with other religious communities. We had never heard of any threats whatsoever against the church. It just makes no sense.

According to a November 14 article in French daily Le Parisien, Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray has had at least one brush with extremists in the past. Several young men from the region who had made plans to join the ranks of the Islamic State group met in a mosque in the town.