PARIS (Reuters) – A Greek Orthodox priest was shot and wounded in a church in the center of the French city of Lyon on Saturday by an assailant who then fled, a police source and witnesses said.
The priest was fired twice around 4 p.m. (3 p.m. GMT) as he closed the church, and he was being treated on site 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 was able to tell emergency services upon arrival that he did not recognize his assailant.
The incident came two days after a man shouted “Allahu Akbar!” (God is the 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 assailant, apparently irritated by the teacher showing 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 further attacks by militant Islamists. President Emmanuel Macron has deployed thousands of soldiers to protect sites such as places of worship and schools.
Prime Minister Jean Castex, visiting Rouen, said he was returning to Paris to assess the situation.
The Nice attack took place on the day Muslims celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. Many Muslims around the world have been angered by France’s defense of the right to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet.
A third person has been taken into custody in connection with the attack, a police source said on Saturday. The alleged assailant was shot dead by police and remained in critical condition in hospital.
Macron took to the Arabic-language airwaves on Saturday, saying he understood that the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad might shock some people, but that there was no justification for the acts of violence.
In an interview with Al Jazeera published on Saturday, Macron said his position had been misinterpreted: that he had never supported the publication of cartoons considered insulting by Muslims, but had defended the right to freedom of ‘expression.
“I understand and respect that people may be shocked by these cartoons, but I will never accept any justification for acts of violence on these cartoons,” Macron said.
The teacher killed on October 16, Samuel Paty, had shown cartoons in class to spark a discussion about free speech.