Murdered French priest died from blows to head, say prosecutors

A priest in western France who was murdered by a Rwandan asylum-seeker suspected of setting fire to a cathedral in an arson attack last year, and to whom he had been giving shelter, died from a succession of blows to the head, prosecutors said.

Murdered French priest died from blows to head, say prosecutors
A gendarme stands near the place where a French catholic priest was murdered in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre, on August 9th. Photo: Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP.

The killing of priest Olivier Maire in Saint-Laurent-Sur-Sevre in the Vendée region of western France early on Monday shocked the country and prompted an angry exchange between the government and far-right on immigration rules.

An autopsy showed that Maire had six lesions in his head caused by violent blows, but it was not clear what weapon had been used, local prosecutors said in a statement late on Tuesday. He would have died rapidly after the attack.

Rwandan asylum-seeker Emmanuel Abayisenga turned himself into police on Monday morning and said he had carried out the attack. He was arrested but psychiatric examinations determined formal detention was not compatible with his mental state and he has now been hospitalised.

Abayisenga is accused of starting the fire that ravaged the great Gothic cathedral in the city of Nantes in July 2020. He had been in custody, but then released and had been given shelter by the Montfortains religious community where Maire was a senior figure ahead of his trial.

A murder investigation has been opened, but prosecutors see no link to terror. France is on high alert over the risk of attacks in churches after a radical Islamist from Tunisia killed three people in a church in Nice in late October.

The Nantes blaze came 15 months after the devastating fire at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris in 2019, which raised questions about the security risks for other historic churches across France. Abayisenga had worked as a volunteer at the church.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen lashed out at the government after the killing, asking why Abayisenga had not been expelled from France after the Nantes fire.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin accused her of trying to score political points out of the tragedy, saying that Abayisenga could not be deported as long as he was under judicial control awaiting trial in France.

Immigration is set to be one of the main battlegrounds in French presidential elections next year, where Le Pen is expected to be a leading challenger to President Emmanuel Macron.

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France vows to tackle motorbike ‘rodeos’ after children injured

The French government has pledged a new crackdown against illicit motorbike cruising by youths in suburbs across the country, after two children were seriously injured by a rider near Paris.

France vows to tackle motorbike 'rodeos' after children injured

The rowdy late-night races and stunts known as “rodeos” have become increasingly popular in particular in low-income neighbourhoods, leading to complaints about traffic and noise from local officials and many residents.

On Friday evening, a 10-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy were hit by a rider while playing tag outside their home in Pontoise, northwest of the capital.

French daily Le Figaro reported on Monday that the girl suffered a blow to the head and remained in serious condition in hospital, while the boy had a broken leg.

The accident came after a 19-year-old man was killed in June after being hit by a bike rider in the western city of Rennes.

“I have asked the police to step up their interventions this month,” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said in the southern city of Marseille.

Nonetheless the rodeos are often tolerated or defended as a gritty urban subculture that provides an outlet for disaffected youths, with an upcoming film, “Rodeo”, that appears to glorify the gatherings and  generated a strong buzz at the Cannes film festival last May.

Police have carried out 8,000 operations to break up rodeos in the past two months, leading to 1,200 arrests and the seizure of around 700 motorbikes and other vehicles including all-terrain “quads”.

In 2018, parliament passed a law increasing penalties for the riders to up to five years in prison.