French police seek out assailant who shot and wounded Orthodox monks within the church


© Reuters. Police officers guard a scene in which an Orthodox priest was shot and injured when the attacker fled to Lyon, according to police


By Marc Angrand and Sarah White

PARIS (Reuters) – A Greek Orthodox priest was shot dead and injured by an attacker who fled in a church in central Lyon on Saturday, a police source and witnesses said.

The priest was shot twice at around 4 p.m. (1500 GMT) as he was closing the church and he was being treated for life-threatening injuries, the source said.

Witnesses said the church is Greek Orthodox. Another police source said the priest was of Greek nationality and was able to tell ambulance services upon arrival that he did not recognize his attacker.

A Greek government official identified the priest as Nikolaos Kakavelakis.

There was no evidence from French officials that the attack was related to terrorism. The French anti-terrorist prosecutor’s office was not called in, as is normal when law enforcement officers suspect a link to terrorism, said the French BFMTV broadcaster.

The incident occurred two days after a man said “Allahu Akbar!” (God is greatest) beheaded a woman and killed two other people in a church in Nice.

Two weeks ago, a school teacher in the suburbs of Paris was beheaded by an 18-year-old assailant who was apparently enraged by the teacher who showed a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad during a class.

While the motive for the attack on Saturday was unknown, government ministers had warned the government that there could be other militant Islamist attacks. President Emmanuel Macron has deployed thousands of soldiers to protect sites such as places of worship and schools.

Prime Minister Jean Castex, who was visiting Rouen, said he would return to Paris to assess the situation.

The Nice attack took place on the day Muslims celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad. Many Muslims around the world were angry with France’s defense of the right to publish cartoons depicting the prophet.

A third person was taken into police custody in connection with the attack, a police source said on Saturday. The alleged attacker was shot dead by police and remained in critical condition in the hospital.

Going on Arabic-language radio waves Saturday, Macron said he understood that the posting of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad may shock some people, but that there is no justification for acts of violence.

In an interview with Al Jazeera published on Saturday, Macron said his position had been misinterpreted: he never supported the publication of cartoons that Muslims considered offensive, but defended the right to freedom of expression.

“I understand and respect the fact that people might be shocked by these cartoons, but I will never accept any justification for acts of violence against these cartoons,” Macron said.

The teacher Samuel Paty, who was killed on October 16, showed cartoons in class to stimulate discussion about free speech.

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