A Rwandan refugee suspected of causing a major fire that ravaged Nantes cathedral last year assassinated a Catholic priest in western France on Monday, the interior minister and a source close to France said. ‘investigation.
“All my support for the Catholics of our country after the dramatic murder of a priest in Vendée,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on Twitter, saying he was going to the scene.
A source close to the investigation, who requested anonymity, said a man had previously surrendered to the police in the commune of Mortagne-sur-Sèvre and said he had killed a priest. The man was already under judicial supervision for the fire at Nantes cathedral in July 2020, the source added.
The source added that the 60-year-old priest had been welcoming the man to his church for several months.
The man, named Emmanuel A. confessed to being behind the fire in the Gothic Nantes cathedral which horrified France on July 18, 2020.
He was first placed in pre-trial detention before being released under judicial supervision.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who accuses the government of being weak on immigration, sought to take hold of the incident, saying that in France “you can be an illegal migrant, put the fire at a cathedral, not to be expelled and then to reoffend by murdering a priest ”.
Darmanin immediately accused her of having “made a controversy without knowing the facts” by asserting that the man could not be expelled from France as long as he was under judicial control.
Immigration is expected to be a major issue when Le Pen challenges centrist President Emmanuel Macron for the presidency next year.
The Nantes fire came 15 months after the devastating 2019 fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which raised questions about the security risks for other historic churches across France.
While firefighters were able to contain the Nantes blaze in just two hours and save the main structure, its famous organ, which dated from 1621 and had survived the French Revolution and WWII bombing, was destroyed.
Priceless artifacts and paintings have also been lost, including a work by 19th-century artist Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin and stained-glass windows containing remains of 16th-century glass. Repairs are expected to take several years.
The man, an asylum seeker from Rwanda who has lived in France for several years, had worked as a volunteer at the church.