France is deploying military forces at religious sites as pastors are anxious and anguished after a Greek Orthodox priest was attacked with a sawn-off shotgun in the city of Lyon on Saturday, days after three people were killed in an Islamist extremist attack at a Catholic church in the city of Nice.
Nikolas Kakavelakis, a 45-year-old priest and father of two, was wounded in the attack, according to Antoine Callot, the pastor at another Greek Orthodox church in Lyon, The Epoch Times reported.
Kakavelakis, a Greek citizen, was shot in the abdomen at point-blank range while he was closing his church at 4 p.m. local time, and he is now in a serious condition in the hospital, France 24 reported. A new COVID-19 lockdown had been imposed in the city on Friday but the government had exempted places of worship until Monday.
While the Greek Orthodox community in Lyon has not received any threats, Pastor Callot sought police protection at his church soon after the shooting. “We are anxious and anguished. It’s really horrible. Now we need to hide and be careful,” he was quoted as saying.
The Lyon prosecutor, Nicolas Jacquet, said in a statement that when officers arrived at the scene of the attack, they saw an individual running away and found the wounded priest by the back door of the church.
Jacquet said a suspect had been arrested. “A person who could correspond to the description given by the initial witnesses has been placed in police custody,” he said, adding, however, that police did not find any weapon with the suspect.
After finding no evidence of his involvement, the suspect was released on Sunday and the search for the gunman is continuing in Lyon.
The shooting comes after a knife-wielding man attacked and killed three Christians in a church while they attended Mass in Nice’s Notre Dame Basilica on Thursday. The man nearly beheaded one of his victims and cut the throat of another. The third escaped only to die of her stab wounds, Catholic Arena reported.
The victims were an elderly woman, the church sacristan and one other woman. The suspect injured several others.
Police shot the suspect, who was identified as 21-year-old Brahim Aioussaoi from Tunisia. Even under anesthetic, he continued saying, “Allahu Akbar,” Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi told Radio France Internationale. The mayor called the attack “Islamo-fascist.”
French Christians saw the attack in Nice as an attack on French civilization, missionary group SIM Communications Manager for France and Belgium Vincent Wastable told The Christian Post earlier. Although most French people aren’t practicing Christians, they see the Catholic Church as an important part of their nation’s heritage.
“Terrorist organizations have a misconception of what is French society,” Wastable said. “They think that Western society is Christian, which is not the case anymore. French society has grown into secularism.”
The European Council condemned the "terrorist attack" on Thursday as an attack "on our shared values" and called for "understanding among communities and religions rather than division."