Greek Orthodox priest shot outside church in France’s Lyon

Sources tell AFP that gunman shot priest twice in the chest; Lyon prosecutor’s office says motive for attack is not yet clear.

Security and emergency personnel in Lyon at the scene where an attacker armed with a sawn-off shotgun wounded an Orthodox priest [Philippe Desmazes/AFP]

A Greek Orthodox priest has been critically injured in a shooting outside a church in the French city of Lyon, a police source and witnesses said.

Nikolaos Kakavelaki, a 52-year-old Greek citizen, was closing his Lyon church mid-afternoon on Saturday when he was shot twice in the chest at point-blank range, sources close to the inquiry told the AFP news agency.

The priest is now in a local hospital with life-threatening injuries, a police official told The Associated Press.

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 policy custody,” prosecutor Nicolas Jacquet said, adding that the suspect had not been carrying a weapon when he was arrested.

The reason for the attack was unclear.

“No theory is favoured, no theory is ruled out,” Lyon Mayor Gregory Doucet told reporters at the scene. “We don’t know at this stage the motive for this attack.”

The shooting comes two days after a knife attack at a Catholic church in the French city of Nice that killed three people and amid tensions about a French newspaper’s publication of caricatures mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

French anti-terrorist authorities were not investigating Saturday’s attack, although the interior minister activated a special emergency team to follow the case.

‘Anxious and anguished’

Antoine Callot, the pastor at another Greek Orthodox church in Lyon, told AP that the Greek Orthodox community in Lyon has not received any threats but said he immediately asked police for security protection at his church after the shooting.

“We are anxious and anguished. It’s really horrible,” he said. “Now, we need to hide and be careful.”

Prime Minister Jean Castex reiterated government promises to deploy military forces at religious sites and schools.

He said French people can “count on the nation to allow them to practise their religion in full safety and freedom”.

No one was guarding the church targeted in Lyon on Saturday, or the church attacked in Nice on Thursday.

The Greek foreign ministry said in a statement: “We condemn the attack against an Orthodox priest of Greek origin near the Church of the Annunciation in Lyon, France. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in constant contact with the competent French authorities.”

Archbishop Ieronymos, the head of the Greek Orthodox church, denounced a “horror that defies human logic”.

“Intolerant and fanatic extremists, fundamentalists of violence and death use religion as a bullet which aims at the heart of freedom and especially the freedom of belief of others,” he told reporters in the Greek capital, Athens.

European Council President Charles Michel condemned “this new abominable act in Lyon”.

He added in a tweet that “in Europe, the freedom of conscience is guaranteed for all and must be respected, violence is intolerable and must be condemned.”

EU Parliament President David Sassoli said that “Europe will never bow to violence and terrorism.”

Source: News Agencies