Orthodox priest in 'critical condition' after shooting in Lyon, France

Henry Samuel
·4-min read
The scene where an attacker armed with a sawn-off shotgun wounded an Orthodox priest  - AFP
The scene where an attacker armed with a sawn-off shotgun wounded an Orthodox priest - AFP

French police locked down parts of Lyon on Saturday as they searched for gunmen who shot an Orthadox priest with a sawn-off shotgun before fleeing.

The priest, who has Greek nationality, was closing his church when the attack happened and is now in a serious condition. The interior ministry warned people to "avoid the area" where the attack took place.

A police source said the priest was of Greek nationality, and had been able to tell emergency services as they arrived that he had not recognised his assailant.

The motivation for the attack was not known last night, but the shooting came in the wake of several grisly Islamist attacks on French soil and a growing tension between France and the Muslim world.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, lashed out at Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, slamming Turkey's "bellicose" stance towards Nato allies.

Mr Macron said that France's wish was now that things "calm down" but for this to happen, it is essential that the "Turkish president respects France, respects the European Union, respects its values, does not tell lies and does not utter insults," Macron said.

Protests erupted Friday in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mali, Mauritania and Lebanon, the latest in a string of mass rallies denouncing France.

Turkey had led the charge in accusing Mr Macron of having a “problem with Islam” and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan even suggested he get his mental health checked and called for a boycott on French goods.

In an interview on Saturday Mr Macron added: “Today in the world there are people who distort Islam and in the name of this religion that they claim to defend,  they kill, they slaughter … today there is violence practised by some extremist movements and individuals in the name of Islam.”

Recent terror attacks on French soil have reignited the debate over cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.

“We will not give up caricatures and drawings, even if others back away,” Mr Macron said in a speech this month after an 18-year old Islamist beheaded a school teacher who had shown his class Mohammed cartoons that were recently republished by satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

"I can understand that people could be shocked by the caricatures but I will never accept that violence can be justified," Mr Macon told Qatar-based TV channel Al-Jazeera in a long interview on Saturday.

“Of course this is a problem for Islam because Muslims are the first victims,” Macron continued. “More than 80 percent of the victims of terrorism are Muslims, and this is a problem for all of us.”

The priest, who has Greek nationality, was closing his church when the attack happened - AFP
The priest, who has Greek nationality, was closing his church when the attack happened - AFP

France is still reeling from Thursday’s attack in Nice in which Brahim Assouaoui, a Tunisian 21 year old who had only arrived in Europe from Tunisia last month, murdered three in the Riviera town’s Notre-Dame Basilica.

He first tried to behead Nadine Devillers, 60, then slit the throat of the sexton Vincent Loques, 55. A Brazilian mother-of-three, Simone Barreto Silva, who was stabbed several times, fled to a nearby restaurant where she died of multiple stab wounds.

Assouaoui was shot by police 14 times and is currently in a critical condition in hospital.

Prosecutors say he arrived illegally in Europe on Italy's Mediterranean island of Lampedusa on September 20 before landing in Bari, Sicily, on October 9 and coming to Nice just one or two days before the attack.

French police are now holding three people as they seek to ascertain whether he had accomplices.

A first man, 47, was detained on Thursday evening after being seen next to the attacker on surveillance footage the day before the attack. The second, held on Friday, is suspected of contacting Assouaoui the day before the attack.

On Saturday, police said a third man, aged 33, was arrested after being present when the home of the second suspect was raided.

Police are trying to work out whether the Nice stabbing had been planned in advance by committed jihadists.