Two men in their seventies have been shot by a fellow pensioner in the Basque region of France. They interrupted the man as he tried to set fire to a mosque. Police later arrested the suspect.
The assailant, an 84-year-old man, opened fire when the two men, aged 74 and 78, came upon him trying to set fire to the door of the Bayonne mosque in southwest France around 1400 GMT, the police department said in a statement.
The victims were brought to a nearby hospital with serious injuries, while the suspected octogenarian shooter was later arrested near his home and a firearm and a gas cannister recovered from his car. The mosque was cordoned off for investigations.
The 84-year-old suspect had far-right connections, according to a police source. A separate source, familiar with the situation, said the shooter had been a candidate for Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party back in 2015.
The incident came just hours after President Emmanuel Macron had urged France’s Muslim community to step up the fight against “separatism” in the wake of the latest attack by a radical on French soil, in which a police employee stabbed four colleagues to death.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he “firmly condemned” the “heinous” mosque attack. “The Republic will never tolerate hatred,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “Everything will be done to punish the perpetrators and protect our Muslim compatriots. I commit myself to it.”
Je condamne avec fermeté l’attaque odieuse perpétrée devant la mosquée de Bayonne. J'adresse mes pensées aux victimes. La République ne tolérera jamais la haine. Tout sera mis en œuvre pour punir les auteurs et protéger nos compatriotes de confession musulmane. Je m’y engage.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) October 28, 2019
There have been intermittent attacks on mosques in France since 2007, when 148 Muslim headstones in a national military cemetery near Arras were smeared with anti-Islamic slurs and a pig’s head was placed among them.
Marine Le Pen’s far-right party involved
According to local authorities, the suspect was trying to set the door of the mosque on fire when the two men, took him by surprise. The suspect shot the two men before attempting to set a vehicle on fire while leaving the scene.
Although police did not publish the man’s identity, local media identified him as an 84-year-old former candidate for Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party. A spokesman for the party said that this was true, but that the man had been expelled from the party in 2015.
Le Pen condemned the attack, tweeting that it was “an indescribable act utterly contrary to the values of our movement.”
In June this year, a shooter wounded an imam in a shooting at a mosque in the northwestern city of Brest but police had ruled out a terror motive.
In March, workers building a mosque in the small southwestern town of Bergerac found a pig’s head and animal blood at the entrance to the site — two weeks after a shooter killed 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, in a shooting spree at two mosques.
Mosques were also targeted after the killing of 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine’s office in 2015 by radicals. Dozens of mosques were attacked by arsonists, others with firebombs, grenades or gunfire.
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