French police on Sunday freed a first suspect in the shooting of a Greek Orthodox priest and widened their search for the gunman who seriously injured 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 arrested shortly after Saturday’s shooting was released after finding no evidence of his involvement, suggesting the pastor’s assailant was still at large.
The priest remained in critical condition after being shot with a shotgun, said a police official, who was not authorized to be publicly appointed in accordance with police policy.
The Holy Greek Orthodox Diocese of France identified the victim as Rev. Nikolaos Kakavelakis, and said he was due to return to Greece soon after working at the church in Lyon.
“We pray for a speedy recovery and unequivocally condemn all forms of violence,” he said.
The motive for the shooting remains unclear. Counterterrorism prosecutors are not investigating the case, and the Lyon prosecutor has opened an attempted murder investigation.
Police lines near the church, located in a residential area in central Lyon, have been removed and the search area has been extended to the greater Lyon region, the national police said.
France is on high security alert after the murder of three people in a church in Nice on Thursday, amid global tensions over caricatures of the Muslim prophet Muhammad published in a French newspaper. The French Prime Minister has promised more protection for religious sites.
She also intervened amid tensions within the Greek Orthodox community in Lyon. The priest, a Greek citizen, had had a long-standing legal dispute with a former monk convicted of defamation, French media reported.
The head of the Greek Orthodox Church in France, Emmanuel Adamakis, told French radio Europe 1 that Kakavelakis was no longer serving in Lyon and “had been invited to return to Greece”.
The attack appears to have taken place in a small courtyard at the back of the church, where the priest lived in an official church apartment, Adamakis said.
Antoine Callot, the pastor of another Greek Orthodox church in Lyon, told The Associated Press that the city’s Greek Orthodox community had not received any threats, but said he immediately asked police for a security protection in his church after the shooting on Saturday.
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