France, Belgium face new wave of attacks against Catholics by suspected Islamist militants

Soldiers patrol in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, on Nov. 16, 2015.Reuters

Catholics in France and Belgium—two countries still haunted by bloody terrorist attacks by the Islamic State (ISIS)—are facing a new wave of attacks from suspected Islamist militants, the latest of which was the burning of the altar at the Church of St. Madeleine-de-l'Île in Martigues, about 800 km south of Paris.

"The marble, which prevented the fire from spreading. I can't imagine what would have happened with a wooden altar. The consequences for our church would have been tragic," said local priest Father Benoît Delabre, according to the Catholic News Agency (CNA) based from a report from the French periodical La Provence.

Last May 15, the priest also disclosed that an unknown person desecrated the tabernacle which contained the consecrated hosts in the church at Jonquières in the same region.

Delabre said last Sunday he was attacked by a man after he caught him at the church door while "trying to steal something."

"We know just how serious these attacks are on signs and persons because of their faith...The Catholic faith, its symbols and those that profess it, deserve to be respected just like every kind of religious expression that does not disturb the public order," he said.

In a statement, Martigues Mayor Gaby Charroux vowed to investigate the attacks and catch the culprits, lamenting that "thefts of every kind in churches in France are becoming more and more frequent."

In April, more than 100 websites of churches and congregations were hacked by suspected Tunisian cyber-jihadists who call themselves the Fallaga Team, La Croix reports.

In Belgium, two fires destroyed the church in Mont-Sainte-Geneviève on May 24. The church dates back from the 16th century.

"The first one began in the sacristy. The fire fighters had barely left the scene after managing to control that fire when another much bigger fire in the church roof was reported," according to CNA.

The suspects are still being hunted by the police.