French cathedral arson suspect held over priest's murder

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A 40-year-old Rwandan national, who admitted starting a fire in Nantes cathedral in July 2020 and who was given accomodation with a Catholic mission in SW France while on bail, gave himself up to police on Monday over the murder of one of the mission's priests.

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A Rwandan national suspected of causing a major fire that ravaged the cathedral in the French town of Nantes last year murdered a Catholic priest in western France on Monday, the interior minister and a source close to the investigation said, reports FRANCE 24.

"All my support for the Catholics of our country after the dramatic murder of a priest in the Vendée region," French interior minister Gérald Darmanin wrote on Twitter, saying he was heading to the scene. 

A source close to the investigation, who asked not to be named, told the AFP that the suspect had earlier gone to police in the town of Mortagne-sur-Sèvre and declared he had killed a priest.

The slain priest, 60, had been welcoming the man into his church for several months, according to the source.

The man, a Rwandan national named as Emmanuel A., has confessed to being behind the fire at the Gothic Nantes cathedral that horrified France on July 18th 2020.

He had initially been placed under arrest before being freed under judicial control.

Earlier Monday, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who accuses the government of being weak on immigration, sought to capitalise on the incident, saying that in France "you can be an illegal migrant, set fire to a cathedral, not be expelled and then reoffend by murdering a priest".

Darmanin immediately accused her of "making a polemic without knowing the facts" saying the man could not be expelled from France while he was under judicial control.

Immigration is set to be a major issue when Le Pen challenges centrist President Emmanuel Macron for the presidency next year.

Senator Bruno Retailleau, a conservative who represents the Vendée region, identified the victim as Olivier Maire.

Read more of this report from FRANCE 24.

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