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NICE, (France): A knife-wielding attacker shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest) beheaded a woman and killed two other people at a church in the French city of Nice on Thursday.

A defiant President Emmanuel Macron, declaring that France had been subject to an Islamist terrorist attack, said he would deploy thousands more soldiers to protect key French sites, such as places of worship and schools.

Speaking from the scene, he said France had been attacked "over our values, for our taste for freedom, for the ability on our soil to have freedom of belief".

"And I say it with lots of clarity again today: we will not give any ground."

In Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, state television reported that a Saudi man had been arrested in the Red Sea city of Jeddah after attacking and injuring a guard at the French consulate. The French Embassy said he was in hospital after a knife assault though his life was not in danger.

Within hours of the Nice attack, police killed a man who had threatened passersby with a handgun in Montfavet, near the southern French city of Avignon.

France's Le Figaro newspaper quoted a prosecution source as saying the man was undergoing psychiatric treatment, and that they did not believe there was a terrorism motive.

Nice's mayor, Christian Estrosi, said the attack in his city had happened at Notre Dame church and was similar to the beheading earlier this month near Paris of teacher Samuel Paty, who had used blasphemy cartoons in a civics class.

Thursday's attacks, on the birthday of the Prophet (PBUH), came at a time of growing Muslim anger at France's defence of the right to publish the cartoons, and protesters have denounced France in street rallies in several Muslim-majority countries.

After the Nice attack, Prime Minister Jean Castex raised France's security alert to its highest level.

Estrosi said the Nice attacker had repeatedly shouted "Allahu Akbar" even being detained by police.

At around 9 a.m. (0800 GMT), a man armed with a knife entered the church and slit the throat of the sexton, beheaded an elderly woman, and badly wounded a third woman, according to a police source.

The sexton and the elderly woman died on the spot, the third woman managed to make it out of the church into a nearby cafe, where she died, Estrosi told reporters. None of the victims has so far been named. ?"The suspected knife attacker was shot by police while being detained. He is on his way to hospital, he is alive," he said.

"Enough is enough. It's time now for France to exonerate itself from the laws of peace in order to definitively wipe out Islamo-fascism from our territory."

Reuters journalists at the scene said police armed with automatic weapons had put up a security cordon around the church, which is on Nice's Avenue Jean Medecin, the French Riviera city's main shopping thoroughfare. Ambulances and fire service vehicles were also at the scene.

Condemnations of the attack came from Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, whose President Tayyip Erdogan earlier this week slammed Macron and France.