A Rwandan asylum-seeker has handed himself over to police claiming responsibility for the murder of a 60-year old priest, the interior minister and a source close to the investigation announced on Monday.
The body of Father Olivier Maire, a member of the Montfortain Brothers in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre in western France, was found on Monday morning.
The priest was murdered in his bedroom on the commmunity's premises, a source close to the investigation told franceinfo.
"All my support for the Catholics of our country after the dramatic murder of a priest in the Vendee region," Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on Twitter, saying he was heading to the scene.
The source, who asked not to be named, said a man had gone this morning to police in the town of Mortagne-sur-Sevre and declared he had "killed a clergyman".
The man in question, named as Emmanuel A., is reportedly a 39-year-old Rwandan asylum-seeker who was under judicial control after confessing to starting a fire at Nantes cathedral in July 2020. He had initially been placed under arrest before being freed under judicial control.
He had recently been working as a volunteer at the local church, alongside the priest.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who accuses the government of being weak on immigration, seized 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".
Quelle indignité ! Plutôt que de dire sa compassion aux catholiques qui ont accueilli ce meurtrier, madame le Pen polémique sans connaître les faits : cet étranger n’était pas expulsable malgré son arrêté d’expulsion tant que son contrôle judiciaire n’était pas levé. https://t.co/eZh3r4OdJr— Gérald DARMANIN (@GDarmanin) August 9, 2021
Darmanin immediately accused her of "making a polemic without knowing the facts" saying the man could not be deported from France so long as 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, posted a photo of Olivier Maire on Twitter and said the local Catholic church had been housing the man.
"Deeply shocked by the terrible murder of a priest who had taken his murderer into his care," Retailleau wrote.
"What was this man still doing in France?" asked the lawmaker, who is among several members of the right of centre Republicans party likely to seek nomination for the 2022 presidential election.
Je veux rendre hommage au Père Olivier Maire, supérieur des Montfortains assassiné par un criminel qu’il hébergeait par charité. Sa mort témoigne de la bonté de ce prêtre que je connaissais bien et et dont j’avais pu apprécier la profondeur de la foi. Sa mort est une grande perte pic.twitter.com/NbH1KogPvR— Bruno Retailleau (@BrunoRetailleau) August 9, 2021
The most recent fatal attack on Catholics in France occurred on October 29, 2020 when a 21-year-old Tunisian man, recently arrived in France, stabbed three people at the Notre Dame Basilica in the south-eastern French city of Nice. It was deemed a terrorist attack.
In November 2019, Roger Matassoli, a 91-year-old pedophile priest was found asphyxiated and beaten in the Oise region north of Paris. The perpetrator, Alexandre V., who had been sexually absued by the priest, was held not responsible for his acts.
Text initially published on: RFI