Orthodox priest shot dead in church in France, motive unknown

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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, authorities said.

The priest, a Greek citizen, is in a local hospital with fatal injuries after being shot twice 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 arrested a person who looked like descriptions of the gunman but who was unarmed at the time of his arrest, the Lyon prosecutor said in a statement. He said investigators were trying to determine his identity. 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 lingering geopolitical tensions, cartoons mocking the Muslim prophet Muhammad published in the newspaper French satirist Charlie Hebdo.

French counterterrorism authorities were monitoring the case but not investigating Saturday’s shooting. The Interior Minister has activated a special emergency team to monitor the manhunt, and the Lyon prosecutor has opened an investigation for attempted murder.

“No theory is privileged, no theory is excluded”, declared the mayor of Lyon, Gregory Doucet, to the journalists on the spot. “We do not know at this stage the motive for this attack.”

Antoine Callot, the pastor of another Greek Orthodox church in Lyon, identified the injured priest as Nikolas Kakavelakis, a 45-year-old father of two. Callot told the AP that the Greek Orthodox community in Lyon had not received any threats, but said he immediately asked the police for security protection in his church after the shooting.

“We are anxious and anxious. It’s really horrible, ”he said. “Now we have to hide and be careful.”

Residents and a local police patrol heard gunshots near the church, and when the police arrived, they saw an individual running away and found the priest wounded by the back door of the church, Lyon prosecutor said in a statement.

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