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White House Stresses 'Religious Liberty' Commitment After Normandy Attack, Doesn't Mention ISIS

The Obama administration's response to the church attack in Normandy, France, framed it as a religious liberty issue without mention of ISIS.

During morning Mass today in the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, two armed men took five people hostage: two nuns, two parishioners and a priest. They slit the throat of the priest, Rev. Jacques Hamel, 86. One of the hostages was critically injured.

The two terrorists, one who tried to go fight in Syria after the Charlie Hebdo attack but was stopped and briefly imprisoned, were shot dead by police. Another man suspected to have a connection to the attack was arrested.

ISIS' Amaq news agency quickly claimed responsibility for the attack: "The two executors of the attack on a church in Normandy, France, were soldiers of the Islamic State. They executed the operations in response to calls to target countries belonging to the crusader coalition."

French President Francois Hollande sent out a tweet "to the families of the victims and to all the Catholics of France" with "the solidarity and compassion of the nation."

"Daesh has declared war on us," Hollande told reporters, using the pejorative Arabic acronym for ISIS. "We have to win that war."

"Terrorists will not give up on anything until we stop them," the French leader added.

One of the nuns, identified as Sister Danielle, told France's BFM TV of Father Hamel's murder: "They forced him to his knees. He wanted to defend himself. And that's when the tragedy happened. They recorded themselves. They did a sort of sermon around the altar, in Arabic. It's a horror."

An Italian politician called on Pope Francis to "immediately proclaim him St. Jacques" as a "martyr of the faith."

Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, said in a statement, “We are 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."

The White House reaction, issued after the ISIS claim of responsibility, came from National Security Council spokesman Ned Price.

"The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the horrific terrorist attack today at a Catholic church in Normandy, France. We offer our condolences to the family and friends of the murdered priest, Father Jacques Hamel. Our thoughts and prayers are with the other victims of the attack as well as the parishioners and community members of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray," Price said.

"France and the United States share a commitment to protecting religious liberty for those of all faiths, and today's violence will not shake that commitment," he added. "We commend French law enforcement for their quick and decisive response and stand ready to assist the French authorities in their investigation going forward."

An ISIS-linked Telegram account posted in French after the attack that "Hitler took 10 years to shake the French... but our state shook France in a hour north to south. Allah bless you o Soldiers of the Caliphate."

ISIS has had a special target on the Vatican since the inception of their caliphate, detailing in an ebook how critical the sacking of Rome is in their plans for apocalyptic conquest.

The 2015 book predicted "recruits" sympathetic to their cause "will give intelligence, share weapons and do undercover work for the Muslims to pave the way for the conquest of Rome."

They're also counting on ethnic minority soldiers defecting from European armies and passing their skills on to others as they raid weapons caches, while "lone wolves from within the community will rise" including "especially ex-gang members who also have access to weapons."

"Muslim fighters from all European countries will continue the fight, breaking borders until they can reach Northern Rome," they wrote.

In January, ISIS released a video introducing the November Paris attackers calling on Muslims to commit attacks in their home countries of France and Belgium and beyond.

Samy Amimour, one of the gunmen at the Bataclan music hall massacre, said in the video he was sent on the Paris mission by ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to "cleanse the earth of disbelievers, whoever they may be and wherever they may be."

"We have come to you with slaughter, and indeed our knives come closer to your throats day after day," Amimour said in French. "...I send a message now to those remaining in France who claim to be Muslims. By Allah, I ask myself what you are doing there. We are being killed every day and you are there sitting idly, living among them, sleeping among them, eating with them, with these disbelievers, while it is within your ability to display some honor and spit in their faces."

"If you can't find a weapon -- smash their heads with a rock, or run over them with your car and terrorize them."