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Priest shot outside French church, suspect arrested

  • Published at 09:25 am November 1st, 2020
French soldiers and Municipal Police officers stand behind the Orthodox Church
French soldiers and Municipal Police officers stand behind the Orthodox Church where an attacker armed with a sawn-off shotgun wounded a priest in a shooting before fleeing, on October 31, 2020 AFP

The attacker fled the scene but Lyon's public prosecutor later announced that a suspect had been arrested

An attacker armed with a sawn-off shotgun seriously wounded a Greek Orthodox priest in a shooting outside a church in the French city of Lyon on Saturday, with the country still reeling from a deadly church attack days before. 

Nikolaos Kakavelaki, 52, was closing his Lyon church mid-afternoon when he was attacked and is now in a serious condition in hospital, said a police source who asked not to be named.

The attacker fled the scene but Lyon's public prosecutor later announced that a suspect had been arrested.

"A person who could correspond to the description given by the initial witnesses has been placed in police custody," prosecutor Nicolas Jacquet said, adding that the suspect had not been carrying a weapon when he was arrested.

The priest was shot twice in the chest at point-blank range, according to sources close to the inquiry.

The motive for the attack was not clear.

"At this stage, no hypothesis is being ruled out, nor favoured," Jacquet said.

But it comes at a time when France is already on edge after the killing of three people inside a church in Nice on Thursday and the beheading of a teacher earlier this month who had showed his class a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed.

The Lyon prosecutor's office said in a statement that witnesses, and a passing police patrol, heard gunshots then "saw an individual fleeing and discovered a man with gunshot wounds at the back door of the church."

The prosecutors said that an investigation had been launched, and it remains "in close contact with the national anti-terrorist prosecution."

The small, art-deco style Orthodox church is situated in a residential area of Lyon which was especially quite due to the new lockdown measures introduced in France on Friday to stem the growing coronavirus pandemic.

In Paris, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin opened a crisis cell meeting to consider the situation.