Paris, Oct 31 (efe-epa).- A Greek Orthodox priest was in serious condition after being shot Saturday at his church in the eastern French city of Lyon, authorities said.
The clergyman, identified as a 52-year-old Greek national, was treated at the scene before being taken away in an ambulance. Police sources described his injuries as life-threatening.
Authorities moved quickly to cordon off the area around the church, located in the Jean-Mace neighborhood of France’s third-largest city.
An assailant armed with a sawn-off shotgun approached the priest around 4.00 pm as the cleric was closing the church where he has served since 2012.
The attacker fired two shots, hitting the victim in the stomach, before fleeing, according to preliminary reports.
Municipal police on patrol in the neighborhood heard the shots and followed the sound, arriving in time to see a person running away and the priest lying on the ground at the back door of the church.
Prosecutors in Lyon said that the case was being treated as an attempted murder.
The office of France’s counter-terrorism prosecutor is monitoring the events in Lyon, but has not assumed control of the investigation, sources in the judiciary said.
The shooting came two days after a Muslim extremist entered a Catholic cathedral in the southern city of Nice and fatally stabbed three people.
French authorities announced Saturday that a fourth person had been taken into custody in connection with the murders in Nice.
Police apprehended the assailant, a Tunisian man, in the wake of the attack and have since arrested three people found to have been in contact with the killer prior to the rampage at the church.
Two weeks before the carnage in Nice, 47-year-old teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded by a Muslim militant outside the middle school near Paris where he had shown pupils a caricature of the prophet Muhammad published by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo during a discussion on freedom of speech.
In the wake of the Nice murders, French President Emmanuel Macron ordered a doubling, to 7000, of the number of troops on the streets as part of Operation Sentinelle, first activated following deadly attacks in early 2015 against the Charlie Hebdo offices and a Kosher supermarket in Paris.
Security forces have been instructed to be especially alert to threats against places of worship.
The prime minister, Jean Castex, was in the northwestern town of Saint-Etienne-de-Rouvray on Saturday, where he visited a monument to a Catholic priest slain in 2016 by Muslim extremists.
On learning of the events in Lyon, Castex said he would return to Paris, where Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin established an emergency response team.
“You can count on the full determination of the government of the republic to allow each and every person to practice his or her religion in complete safety and complete liberty,” Castex said before leaving for Paris. “Our will is strong, our determination shall not weaken.” EFE lmpg/dr