Orthodox priest shot dead in Lyon: motivations unknown

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A Greek Orthodox priest was seriously injured by gunshot Saturday afternoon in Lyon (central-eastern France) while he was closing his church, by a lone man with unknown motives.

At this stage, no hypothesis is ruled out or privileged, said Lyon prosecutor Nicolas Jacquet, while France is still shocked by the Islamist attack committed by a Tunisian in a church in Nice, which left three dead.

A suspect which may correspond to the description given by the first witnesses was taken into police custody, clarified a little later the magistrate. The weapon probably used, a sawed-off shotgun, was not found on him. Checks are continuing on its possible involvement.

Two policemen in front of an Orthodox church.

Police officers examine the Orthodox church in front of which a priest was found shot and wounded in Lyon on October 31.

Photo: afp via getty images / Jeff Pachoud

Residents of the church and a municipal police patrol were alerted around 4 p.m. local time by two detonations near the Hellenic Orthodox church located in the 7th arrondissement of Lyon.

On the spot, they saw an individual who was fleeing and discovered at the back door of the church a man wounded by bullets who turned out to be the archpriest of the place of worship, continued the prosecution.

The anti-terrorism prosecution is not seized

The prosecution, which indicated that an investigation for assassination was open, specified that he remains in close contact with the National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor's Office which is not captured at the moment.

Some police sources also invited the caution about the motive of the assault. The priest was closing his church at the time of the events, which took place inside the place of worship. There was no ceremony in progress and the priest was not in uniform, we learned from sources close to the investigation.

Nikolaos Kakavelakis, 52 years old, targeted by two shots, was hit in the liver and yet to the end. He is in serious condition and has been hospitalized. The weapon, a sawn-off shotgun, was not recovered.

An armed French soldier in Lyon.

An armed soldier stands behind a security cordon near where a man shot a priest with a sawn-off shotgun, seriously injuring him.

Photo: afp via getty images / PHILIPPE DESMAZES

The head of the Church of Greece, Bishop Iéronymos, on Saturday denounced a horror that goes beyond human logic. The Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of France (AEOF) indicated that it could only condemn these acts of violence.

The small art deco-style church, adorned with a mosaic of the Annunciation, is installed in a rather quiet residential area, with very little traffic in the streets on this first weekend of reconfinement.

Open crisis unit

In Paris, the Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin opened a crisis unit where Prime Minister Jean Castex was to join him.

I must tell you that you must count on the entire determination of the government to allow each and everyone to practice their worship in complete safety and in complete freedom,

Jean Castex, French Prime Minister

This new event affecting a place of worship in France was condemned as a abominable act by the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, for whom freedom of conscience in Europe is guaranteed for all and must be respected.

While the motives of the aggressor are still unknown, the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, spoke of a new attack, adding that Europe will never bow to violence and terrorism.

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