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terror attack

People gather Wednesday to pay respect with flowers and candles next to the church where a terror attack left a priest dead in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy, France, on July 26, 2016.Francois Mori/The Associated Press

More horrifying details emerged from the hostages Wednesday about an attack on a French village church by two men proclaiming allegiance to Islamic State.

One of the attackers had been detained for nearly 10 months after twice trying to travel to Syria, but he was released in March over the objection of prosecutors, according to French officials.

Adel Kermiche, 19, was born in Mont-St.-Aignan, a town about five miles from St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray, where he killed the priest, the Rev. Jacques Hamel, at the end of morning Mass. Kermiche and the other attacker, who has not been identified, were shot dead by police.

Five other people — three nuns and two parishioners — were held hostage at the church. One of the nuns escaped, but one of the parishioners, an 86-year-old man, was critically injured.

One of the hostages, the 86-year-old wife of the man critically injured, said Wednesday the attackers had handed her husband identified only as Guy a cellphone and demanded that he take photos or video of the priest after he was slain. Her husband was then slashed in four places by the attackers and is now hospitalized with serious injuries.

The woman, identified only as Jeanine, told RMC radio that her husband played dead to stay alive.

"The terrorists held me with a revolver at my neck," she said, adding it was not clear to her now whether the weapon was real or fake. "He (the priest) fell down looking upwards, toward us."

The Paris prosecutor, Francois Molins, said the two attackers had knives and fake explosives — one a phoney suicide belt covered in tin foil.

Kermiche was detained outside France, sent home, handed preliminary terrorism charges and placed under house arrest with a tracking bracelet, allowing him free movement within the region for four hours a day, Molins said.

A police official told The Associated Press that the bracelet was deactivated during those four hours, allowing Kermiche to leave the family home without raising alarms. The official was not publicly authorized to speak about the case.

The prosecutor's office said Wednesday the second attacker has not been formally identified. In addition, police detained a 16-year-old whom Molins said was the younger brother of a young man who travelled to the Syria-Iraq zone of the Islamic State group carrying Kermiche's ID. He was still being questioned Wednesday.

In St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray, young and old were stunned by the attack.

An 18-year-old neighbour said he had seen Kermiche just three days earlier in nearby Rouen wearing a long Islamic robe.

When he heard about the church attack, "I knew it was him, I was sure," the young man told the AP, identifying himself only as Redwan. He said Kermiche had told him and others about his efforts to get to Syria and "he was saying we should go there and fight for our brothers."

"We were saying that is not good. And he was replying that France is the land of unbelievers," Redwan said.

Candles were placed in front of the town hall as residents called for unity.

"We are scared," said Mulas Arbanu. "(But) be we Christians, Muslims, anything, we have to be together."

Another resident, Said Aid Lahcen, had met the slain priest.

"From the moment when you touch a religion, you attack the nation, and you attack a people. We must not get into divergences, but stay united as we were before," he said.