Orthodox priest shot dead in church in France for unknown reason
By JAMEY KEATEN and ANGELA CHARLTON, Associated Press
LYON, France (AP) – A Greek Orthodox priest was shot dead on Saturday as he closed his church in the French city of Lyon, and authorities have locked down part of the city to track down the attacker, authorities said.
The priest, a Greek citizen, is in a local hospital with fatal injuries after being shot twice in the abdomen, a police official told The Associated Press. The assailant was alone and fired a shotgun, said the official, who has not been allowed to be named publicly.
Police cordoned off the largely residential neighborhood around the church and arrested someone who looks like the gunman’s descriptions but was unarmed at the time of his arrest, the Lyon prosecutor said in a statement. He said investigators were trying to determine his identity.
As night fell in Lyon, an Associated Press reporter saw police gangs and emergency vehicles throughout the neighborhood. National police tweeted that a “serious public security incident” was underway.
The reason for the shooting was not clear. It came two days after a knife attack by an Islamic extremist on a Catholic church in the French city of Nice that killed three people, and amid ongoing geopolitical tensions, cartoons mocking the Muslim prophet Muhammad released in the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
French counterterrorism authorities were monitoring the case but not investigating Saturday’s shooting. The Interior Minister has activated a special emergency team to monitor the manhunt, and the Lyon prosecutor has opened an attempted murder investigation.
“No theory is privileged, no theory is excluded”, declared the mayor of Lyon, Gregory Doucet, to the journalists on the spot. “We do not know at this stage the motive for this attack.”
Antoine Callot, the pastor of another Greek Orthodox church in Lyon, identified the injured priest as Nikolas Kakavelakis, a 45-year-old father of two. Callot told the AP that the Greek Orthodox community in Lyon had not received any threats, but said he immediately asked the police to protect his church after the shooting.
“We are anxious and anxious. It’s really horrible, “he said.” Now we have to hide and be careful. “
Residents and a local police patrol heard gunshots near the church, and when officers arrived they saw an individual fleeing and found the priest wounded by the back door of the church, said the Lyon prosecutor in a press release.
Prime Minister Jean Castex reiterated the government’s promises to deploy military forces to religious sites and schools. He said the French can “count on the nation to enable them to practice their religion in safety and freedom”.
The government has been promising additional security in churches, mosques and other religious sites for several days, but PA journalists have seen few visible signs of an increased police or military presence. No one kept the church targeted on Saturday in Lyon, nor the church attacked in Nice on Thursday.
The Greek Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “We condemn the attack on an Orthodox priest of Greek origin near the Church of the Annunciation in Lyon, France. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in permanent contact with the competent French authorities.
Seeking to ease tensions and explain France’s defense of the prophet’s cartoons, President Emmanuel Macron gave an interview broadcast Saturday on the Arab channel Al-Jazeera. Macron also tweeted that “our country has no problem with any religion. They are all practiced here freely! No stigma: France is committed to peace and living together in harmony.
Charlton reported from Paris. Demetris Nellas in Athens and Laurent Cipriani in Lyon contributed to it.