Suspect released in shooting of Greek Orthodox priest in Lyon

·2-min read

French police on Sunday released an initial suspect in the shooting of a Greek Orthodox priest and widened their search for the gunman who critically wounded 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 Sunday that a man who was arrested shortly after Saturday's shooting was released after they found no evidence of his involvement, suggesting that the clergyman's assailant remained at large.

Nikolaos Kakavelaki, a 52-year-old priest, who has Greek nationality, was closing his church at 4pm (1500 GMT) Saturday when he was attacked and was in critical condition in hospital, said the source, who asked not to be named.

The priest was shot in the abdomen at point-blank range, according to sources close to the enquiry.

The reason for the attack was unclear. Anti-terrorism prosecutors are not investigating the case, and the Lyon prosecutor opened an attempted murder investigation.

The small Orthodox church is situated in a residential area of Lyon which was especially quiet due to the new lockdown measures introduced in France on Friday to stem the growing coronavirus pandemic.

The incident came three days after a man shouting "Allahu Akbar!" (God is Greatest) killed three other people in a church in Nice, and two weeks after a school teacher in a Paris suburb was beheaded by an 18-year-old Chechen, apparently incensed by the teacher showing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in class.

French ministers had warned that other Islamist militant attacks could take place. After the deadly attack in Nice, President Emmanuel Macron announced increased surveillance of places of worship by France's on-the-street military force, which is to be bolstered to 7,000 troops from 3,000. Security at schools will also be boosted, he said.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has warned that French citizens face a security risk "wherever they are", saying alerts had been sent to all French nationals abroad.

France went into a second coronavirus lockdown on Friday but the government has exempted places of worship until Monday, allowing them to celebrate the Christian All Saints' Day on Sunday.

The country has been on high alert since the January 2015 massacre at the satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo marked the beginning of a wave of jihadist attacks that have killed more than 250 people.

Tensions have heightened since last month when the trial opened for 14 suspected accomplices in that attack.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS and AP)