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ISIS aim is to trigger a backlash against Muslims in France, writes Paul Cruikshank

European intelligence services have detected renewed efforts by ISIS to reach out to extremists in Europe, he says

CNN  — 

The attack by two knife-wielding assailants on a church outside Rouen, Normandy, Tuesday in which the attackers killed an elderly priest by slitting his throat and gravely wounded a hostage appears to have been quite deliberately targeted at the Catholic church.

Although attendance numbers are down, Catholicism is still deeply entwined in the national fabric of France, and the attack has already led to outrage across the country.

The goal in going after such a provocative target? To trigger a backlash against Muslims in France and drive the country’s Muslims into the recruiting arms of the Islamic State.

The attackers filmed the atrocity, a nun who managed to escape told CNN affiliate BFM.

According to French President Francois Hollande, the attackers claimed they were acting on behalf of ISIS, something the group also claimed via an affiliated news agency.

A French intelligence source told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that one of the attackers had been radicalized after the Charlie Hebdo killings and had tried to enter Syria on two occasions and was associated with Maxime Hauchard, another French jihadi who appeared in an ISIS beheading video in 2014.