Police officers and rescue workers block the access to the scene after a Greek Orthodox priest was shot while he was closing his church in the city of Lyon, central France, on Saturday Oct.31, 2020.
Laurent Cipriani—AP
October 31, 2020 2:07 PM EDT

LYON, France — A Greek Orthodox priest was shot Saturday while he was closing his church in the French city of Lyon, and authorities locked down part of the city to hunt for the assailant, police said.

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 cordoned off the largely residential neighborhood around the church and warned the public on social networks to stay away. As night fell on Lyon, an Associated Press reporter saw police tape and emergency vehicles throughout the neighborhood. National police tweeted that “a serious public security incident” was under way.

The reason for the shooting 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 ongoing 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.”

Seeking to calm tensions and to explain France’s defense of the prophet cartoons, President Emmanuel Macron gave an interview broadcast Saturday on Arabic network Al-Jazeera. Macron also tweeted that “our country has no problem with any religion. They are all practiced here freely! No stigmatization: France is committed to peace and living together in harmony.”

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