Mystery Surrounds Shooting of Greek Orthodox Priest in France

Father Nikolaos Kakavelakis. Credit: Communauté Hellénique de Lyon/Facebook

Police in the French city of Lyon released on Sunday an initial suspect in the shooting of a Nikolaos Kakavelakis, a Greek Orthodox priest, and are now questioning a Greek Orthodox parishioner who was recently caught on video scuffling with the priest.

The parishioner, Jean-Michel Dhimoila, told the Associated Press that local police raided his home on Monday, collected documents and took him in for questioning — although not as a suspect.

The shooting happened when Father Kakavelakis, a Greek citizen, was closing up his church on Saturday.

Officials have opened an investigation for attempted murder. Some reports in French media speculate it was yet another terrorist attack by Islamic militants, while other have suggested a possible personal motive.

Prosecutors said they were keeping all hypotheses open.

Father Kakavelakis, originally from Chania, Crete, was reported to be in serious condition in hospital on Sunday.

He is a theology historian and studied at the Université Jean Moulin Lyon III. He also taught Byzantine history at the University of Lyon. He lived for years in the French city, with his family.

He has three children and the youngest is three years old. He is one of the most beloved members of the Greek community in France with a history of doing social work for the public.

“We pray for a speedy recovery and unequivocally condemn all forms of violence,” said the Greek Orthodox Holy Diocese of France.

The incident on Saturday came days after three people were killed in a knife attack at a church in the southern city of Nice.

French President Emmanuel Macron called the killings an “Islamist terrorist attack” and deployed thousands of extra soldiers to protect public sites, including places of worship.

Prime Minister Jean Castex on Saturday said the government was determined to allow “each and everyone to practice their worship in complete safety and in complete freedom”.