France has declared a state of emergency after at least three people died and several others were left injured after a knife attack inside the Notre-Dame church in Nice in a suspected terrorist attack.

Nice-Matin reports that a person of around 70 years old was beheaded inside the Notre-Dame basilica and another person lost their life inside the church.

The attack took place just after 9am on Thursday, October 29, just as morning mass started inside the Roman Catholic place of worship – the largest in Nice.

Earlier in the morning, gunshots were also reported in the area.

The attacker kept shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) even after he had been arrested by police, Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi told reporters.

A man who was armed with a knife and tried to attack police officers as he shouted "Allah Akbar" was also shot dead in Avignon just hours later, although it is unclear if the attacks are related.

In another incident a man allegedly brandishing a knife with a 30cm blade has been arrested in Lyon, while another man has also been arrested after he stabbed a guard at the French Consulate in Jiddah.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has condemned the "barbaric" attack and said the UK "stands steadfastly with France against terror and intolerance".

French President Emmanuel Macron has now said his country is "under attack" from Islamic terrorists.

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Members of the public have been urged to avoid the area

The mayor of Nice added that one of the deceased is the church warden.

Locals have also reported hearing explosions although these have been set off by authorities, police have confirmed.

The assailant was arrested after the Thursday morning attack and taken to a nearby hospital after being injured during his arrest, a police official said.

Dramatic footage has shown armed police storming Nice’s Notre-Dame de l’assomption Basilica following the attack.

Police confirmed they shot the alleged suspect but he is said to now be stable in hospital.

Police in Nice following the attack

He was believed to be acting alone, the official added.

The alleged attacker is described by police as a North African and aged in his thirties.

The reason for the attack in Nice is unclear. However, politician Marine Le Pen, president of the National Rally, said: "All our thoughts to the victims, their families, the Catholics and the people of Nice once again struck by Islamist barbarism."

"Both victims were beheaded," a police spokesman said.

Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi at the scene

French politician Marine Le Pen also spoke of a decapitation having occurred in the attack.

The city's mayor, Christian Estrosi, tweeted: "I am on site with the [police] who arrested the perpetrator of the attack.

"I confirm that everything suggests a terrorist attack in the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice."

French President Emmanuel Macron is now heading to Nice following the attack.

At least two people have died in the Notre-Dame attack

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin confirmed on Twitter he is to chair a crisis meeting following the incident.

Members of the public have been urged by police to avoid the area.

In a tweet, the police service wrote: "Police operation in progress do not use Notre Dame Sector Center ville Nice."

In another tweet they added: "The detonations you hear are those caused by the services of @PoliceNationale, Do not panic, the situation is under control -Respect the security perimeter - Do not use Notre Dame sector."

Forensic specialists inspect the area

Police armed with automatic weapons have put up a security cordon around the church, which is on Nice's Jean Medecin avenue, the city's main shopping thoroughfare.

Ambulances and fire service vehicles are also at the scene.

France's anti-terrorist body said it is now looking into the fatal knife attack on "counts of assassination in relation to a terrorist enterprise", attempted assassination in relation to a terrorist enterprise and "terrorist association of criminals".

A minute of silence was held at the French National Assembly on Thursday morning following the incident.

The World Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad has condemned all forms of terrorism and extremism and called for mutual understanding and dialogue between all peoples and nations following the attacks.

Forensics officers deploy stretchers at the site of the attack

His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad said: “The murder and beheading of Samuel Paty and the attack in Nice earlier today must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Such grievous attacks are completely against the teachings of Islam.

"Our religion does not permit terrorism or extremism under any circumstances and anyone who claims otherwise acts against the teachings of the Holy Quran and contrary to the noble character of the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).

"As the worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, I extend our deepest sympathies to the loved ones of the victims and to the French nation.

"Let it be clear that our condemnation and hatred of such attacks is not something new but has always been our position and stance. The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (peace be upon him) and his Successors have always categorically rejected all forms of violence or bloodshed in the name of religion.

"The fallout from this heinous act has further exacerbated the tensions between the Islamic world and the West and between Muslims living in France and the rest of society.

"We consider this to be a source of deep regret and a means of further undermining the peace and stability of the world. We must all join together to root out all forms of extremism and to encourage mutual understanding and tolerance.

"From our perspective, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community will spare no effort in our mission to foster a better understanding of the true and peaceful teachings of Islam in the world.”

MP's observe a minute's silence in tribute to the victims of the knife attack

The attack comes while France is still reeling from the beheading earlier this month of French middle school teacher Samuel Paty in Paris by a man of Chechen origin.

The attacker had said he wanted to punish Paty for showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a civics lesson.

It was not immediately clear what the motive was for the Nice attack, or if there was any connection to the cartoons, which Muslims consider to be blasphemous.

Since Paty's killing, French officials - backed by many ordinary citizens - have re-asserted the right to display the cartoons, and the images have been widely displayed at marches in solidarity with the killed teacher.

That has prompted an outpouring of anger in parts of the Muslim world, with some governments accusing French leader Emmanuel Macron of pursuing an anti-Islam agenda.

Nice sits on the south coast of France, close to the border with Italy.