An Orthodox priest was shot and injured at a church in Lyon on Saturday afternoon, police told French media.
The shooting comes just days after three people were killed in a knife attack that took place at a church in the southern French city of Nice, and two weeks after the murder of a teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad as part of a class on freedom of speech.
Reacting to the attack, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on French television that the government would do its utmost to ensure all worshippers can practice their faith freely and safely: “Our determination will not weaken.” Following the Nice attack, President Emmanuel Macron had deployed thousands of soldiers to protect places of worship and schools.
European Council President Charles Michel condemned the attack on the priest on Twitter, adding: “All our thoughts [are] with the priest who is between life and death. In Europe, freedom of religion is guaranteed for all and must be respected, violence is intolerable and reprehensible.”
Earlier on Saturday, Al Jazeera released an interview with Macron, in which he said that while he understood Muslims’ dismay over cartoons of the prophet, free speech must be protected.
“I understand the sentiments being expressed and I respect them. But you must understand my role right now, it’s to do two things: to promote calm and also to protect these rights,” Macron said.
He also said it was important to distinguish between dangerous extremists and ordinary observant Muslims.
“Today in the world there are people who distort Islam and in the name of this religion that they claim to defend, they kill, they slaughter,” he said, adding: “Of course this is a problem for Islam because Muslims are the first victims … More than 80 percent of the victims of terrorism are Muslims, and this is a problem for all of us.”
The interview came amid heightening tensions across the Muslim world over Macron’s defense of the cartoons — which many pious Muslims consider blasphemous — with demonstrations against France taking place from Pakistan to Indonesia.