LYON, France (AP) – A Greek Orthodox priest was shot dead on Saturday as he closed his church in the French city of Lyon, and authorities have locked down part of the city to track down the assailant, police said.
The priest, a Greek citizen, is in a local hospital with fatal injuries after being shot in the abdomen, a police official told The Associated Press. The attacker was alone and fired a shotgun, said the official, who was not authorized to be named publicly.
Police cordoned off the largely residential neighborhood around the church and warned the public on social media to stay away. As night fell in Lyon, an Associated Press reporter saw tapes of police and emergency vehicles throughout the neighborhood. National police tweeted that “a serious public safety incident” was underway.
The reason for the shooting was not clear. It came two days after an Islamic extremist knife attack on a Catholic church in the French city of Nice that killed three people, and amid continuing tensions over a French newspaper’s publication of cartoons mocking the Muslim prophet Mohammed.
French counterterrorism authorities did not investigate Saturday’s shooting, although the interior minister activated a special emergency team to follow the case while the shooter was still at large.
Prime Minister Jean Castex reiterated the government’s promises to deploy military forces to religious sites and schools. According to him, the French can “count on the nation to allow them to practice their religion in complete safety and freedom”.
Seeking to calm tensions and explain France’s defense of prophetic caricatures, President Emmanuel Macron gave an interview broadcast Saturday on the Arab channel Al-Jazeera. Macron also tweeted that “our country has no problem with any religion. They are all practiced here freely! No stigma: France is committed to peace and living together in harmony.
Charlton reported from Paris.