A Rwandan man who is a refugee in France is suspected of murdering a Roman Catholic priest in the European country on Monday while on bail and awaiting trial for setting fire to Nantes Cathedral.
Emmanuel Abayisenga, 40, is said to have made a full confession after killing 60-year-old Father Olivier Maire in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre on Monday morning.
The horrific crime immediately provoked outrage across France, with one politician saying ‘an illegal immigrant’ can ‘set fire to a Cathedral, not be expelled and then reoffend by murdering a priest’.
Father Olivier had welcomed Abayisenga – a devout Catholic – into his community of missionaries in May when he was released from prison.
He was recently placed under judicial control, and went to live in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre,’ said an investigating source. He is said to have carried out the killing on Monday morning, before handing himself into police.
Early evidence suggests he beat his victim to death,’ the source added.
Abayisenga was living with the Montfortian community, which is made up of missionaries devoted to Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort.
Following today’s attack, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin tweeted: ‘All my support for the Catholics of our country after the dramatic murder of a priest in the Vendée region.’
It was while working as a parish volunteer in Nantes in 2020 that Abayisenga, who arrived in France in 2012, set fire to the medieval Cathedral, causing millions of pounds worth of damage.
The worst damage to Saint Peter and Saint Paul’s, which took 400 years to complete, was the ‘complete destruction’ of the Organ, which dated back to 1621.
Stained glass in part of the building also popped out because of the heat of the blaze. Abayisenga was still awaiting trial for the Nantes Cathedral arson, but was bailed from prison in May.
Conditions including surrendering his passport, and remaining in France, but he was otherwise free to travel. Father Olivier, the head of the Montfortian community, had agreed to take Abayisenga in, giving him food and lodging.
It was Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s Far-Right National Rally, who reacted most furiously to the killing, saying: ‘You can be an illegal migrant, set fire to a Cathedral, not be expelled and then reoffend by murdering a priest’.
But Mr Darmanin immediately accused her of ‘making a polemic without knowing the facts’.
He said Abayisenga could not be expelled from France while under judicial control, and that he had previously been given leave to stay in the country.
The killing comes five years after the horrifying murder of French Catholic priest Jacques Hamel while celebrating Mass.
It was in July 2016 that the 85-year-old was killed in the Church of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray by two Islamist terrorists swearing allegiance to Isis.
A police source in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre said there were ‘no indications of terrorism’ in the latest case.
The Nantes blaze happened 15 months after the devastating 2019 fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Both blazes raised major questions about the security risks for historic places of worship across France.