November 01, 2020
Lyon police block access to the scene after a Greek Orthodox priest was shot.(AP: Laurent Cipriani)
PARIS – A Greek Orthodox priest was shot and injured Saturday at a church in the center of the French city of Lyon by an assailant who then fled, a police source and witnesses said.
The priest was fired on twice around 4 p.m. (1500 GMT) as he was closing the church, and he was being treated for life-threatening injuries, the source said.
Witnesses said the church was Greek Orthodox. Another police source said the priest was of Greek nationality and had been able to tell emergency services as they arrived that he had not recognized his assailant.
A Greek government official identified the priest as Nikolaos Kakavelakis.
There was no indication from French officials that the attack was related to terrorism. The French anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office had not been brought in, as is normal when law enforcement officials suspect a terrorism link, France’s BFMTV broadcaster said.
The incident came two days after a man shouting “Allahu Akbar!” (God is greatest) beheaded a woman and killed two other people in a church in Nice.
Two weeks ago, a schoolteacher in a Paris suburb was beheaded by an 18-year-old attacker who was apparently incensed by the teacher’s showing of a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad during a class.
While the motive for Saturday’s attack was not known, government ministers had warned that there could be other Islamist militant attacks. President Emmanuel Macron has deployed thousands of soldiers to protect sites such as places of worship and schools.
Prime Minister Jean Castex, who was visiting Rouen, said he was heading back to Paris to assess the situation.
The Nice attack took place on the day Muslims celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. Many Muslims around the world have been angered about France’s defense of the right to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet.
A third person has been taken into police custody in connection with that attack, a police source said Saturday. The suspected assailant was shot by police and remained in critical condition in hospital.
Macron: Violence unjustified
Macron took to Arabic language airwaves on Saturday, saying he understood the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad might shock some people but that there was no justification for acts of violence.
In an interview with Al Jazeera released Saturday, Macron said his position had been misconstrued. He said he had never supported publication of cartoons seen as insulting by Muslims but had defended the right of free expression.
“I understand and I respect the fact that people might be shocked by these caricatures, but I will never accept any justification for acts of violence over these caricatures,” Macron said.
The teacher killed on October 16, Samuel Paty, had shown cartoons in class to prompt discussion about free speech.