Orthodox priest shot while closing church in France; attacker at large

International

FILE – In this Tuesday, April 11, 2017 file photo, the sun sets on a Baptist church in Georgia. According to new data released Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, by the Pew Research Center, the portion of Americans with no religious affiliation is rising significantly, in tandem with a sharp drop in the percentage that identifies as Christian. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

LYON, France (AP) — French police say a Greek Orthodox priest was shot Saturday while he was closing his church in the city of Lyon, and authorities are hunting for the assailant.

The priest, a Greek citizen, is in a local hospital with life-threatening injuries after being hit in the abdomen, a police official told The Associated Press. The attacker was alone and fired from a hunting rifle, said the official, who was not authorized to be publicly named.

Police locked down the neighborhood around the church and warned the public on Twitter to stay away. As night fell on Lyon, police tape and emergency vehicles could be seen on images shown on French television.

The reason for the attack was unclear. It happened two days after an Islamic extremist knife attack at a Catholic church in the French city of Nice that killed three people and amid tensions over a French newspaper’s publication of caricatures mocking the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

French anti-terrorist authorities were not investigating Saturday’s shooting, although the interior minister activated a special emergency team to follow the case while the gunman was still at large.

Prime Minister Jean Castex reiterated government promises to deploy military forces at religious sites and schools. He said French people can “count on the nation to allow them to practice their religion in full safety and freedom.”

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