France: Suspect in priest’s shooting freed, search widens

French police release initial suspect in the shooting of a Greek Orthodox priest in Lyon after they found no evidence of his involvement.

French soldiers and Municipal Police officers stand behind a cordon-off area near the Orthodox Church [File: Jeff Pachoud/AFP]

French police released an initial suspect in the shooting of a Greek Orthodox priest and widened their search for the gunman who critically wounded the priest as he closed the door to his official residence at a church in the city of Lyon.

The Lyon prosecutor’s office said a man who was arrested shortly after Saturday’s shooting was released on Sunday after they found no evidence of his involvement, suggesting that the clergyman’s assailant remained at large.

The priest remained in critical condition after being shot with a hunting rifle, said a police official, who was not authorised to be publicly named according to police policy.

The motive for the shooting remains unclear. Anti-terrorism prosecutors are not investigating the case, and the Lyon prosecutor opened an attempted murder investigation.

Police cordons in the vicinity of the church, located in a residential area of central Lyon, were removed and the search area was widened to the broader Lyon area, the national police service said.

The attack came as France is under a high-security alert after the killing of three people at a Nice church on Thursday, amid global tensions over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in a French newspaper.

Many Muslims worldwide are also angry at French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments that Islam “is in crisis” and his refusal to condemn the cartoons. Any depiction of the Prophet is forbidden in Islam.

The French prime minister has promised more protection for religious sites.

‘Condemn all forms of violence’

The shooting also came amid tensions within the Greek Orthodox community in Lyon. The priest, a Greek citizen, had a long-running legal dispute with a former monk who had been convicted of defamation, according to French media reports.

The Greek Orthodox Holy Diocese of France identified the victim as Father Nikolaos Kakavelakis and said he was scheduled to return soon to Greece after his time working at the Lyon church.

“We pray for a speedy recovery and unequivocally condemn all forms of violence,” it said.

Antoine Callot, the pastor at another Greek Orthodox church in Lyon, told The Associated Press 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.

Source: News Agencies