Finance

Orthodox priest shot and wounded in church in France

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© Reuters. The police secure a street in Lyon

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By Sarah White and Catherine Lagrange

PARIS (Reuters) – A Greek Orthodox priest was shot and seriously wounded by an attacker who fled on Saturday in a church in the French city of Lyon. This was reported by a police source and witnesses.

It was not immediately clear what the attacker's motive was, said local authorities and prosecutors.

The priest was shot at twice around 4 p.m. (1500 GMT) when he closed the church and was treated for life-threatening injuries, police said.

Witnesses said the church in the center of the city was Greek Orthodox. Another police source said the priest was of Greek nationality and was able to tell emergency services upon arrival that he did not recognize his attacker.

A Greek government official identified the priest as Nikolaos Kakavelakis.

A suspect was arrested and held in police custody a few hours later in a kebab shop in Lyon, the first police source said. However, there was no confirmation that the person was the suspected attacker or that the police were still looking for someone else.

There was no evidence from French officials that the attack was related to terrorism. The French anti-terrorist prosecutor's office was not called in, as is normal when law enforcement officers suspect a link to terrorism, said the French BFMTV broadcaster.

The incident occurred two days after a man said "Allahu Akbar!" (God is greatest) beheaded a woman and killed two other people in a church in Nice.

Two weeks ago, a school teacher in the suburbs of Paris was beheaded by an 18-year-old assailant who was apparently enraged by the teacher who showed a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad during a class.

Government ministers had warned that there could be other militant Islamist attacks. President Emmanuel Macron has deployed thousands of soldiers to protect sites such as places of worship and schools.

The Nice attack took place on the day Muslims celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad. Many Muslims around the world were upset with France's defense of the right to publish cartoons depicting the prophet.

A third person was taken into police custody in connection with the attack, a police source said on Saturday. The alleged attacker was shot dead by police and remained in critical condition in the hospital.

Going on Arabic-language radio waves Saturday, Macron said he understood that the posting of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad may shock some people, but that there is no justification for acts of violence.

In an interview with Al Jazeera published on Saturday, Macron said his position had been misinterpreted: he never supported the publication of cartoons that Muslims considered offensive, but defended the right to freedom of expression.

"I understand and respect the fact that people might be shocked by these cartoons, but I will never accept any justification for acts of violence against these cartoons," Macron said.

The teacher Samuel Paty, who was killed on October 16, showed cartoons in class to stimulate discussion about free speech.

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