Friday 24 March 2017

Killer on the run after stabbing woman to death at French religious home

* Man entered the building armed with a sawn-off shotgun and knife
* Member of staff was able to escape and raise the alarm
* 'Nothing at this stage would indicate that this would be a terrorist act'

Gendarmes stand guard on a road near a retirement home for monks in Montferrier-sur-Lez, southern France, early on November 25, 2016, after an armed man bursted in the home killing a woman with a knife. Photo: Getty Images
Gendarmes stand guard on a road near a retirement home for monks in Montferrier-sur-Lez, southern France, early on November 25, 2016, after an armed man bursted in the home killing a woman with a knife. Photo: Getty Images
Armed police were hunting the man inside the home, which is home to around 70 men and women who have served as missionaries in Africa. Authorities said it was a "criminal act". Photo: Getty Images
The retirement home in Montpellier

Philippe Sotto

Police have launched a major search for a man armed with a shotgun and a knife who stabbed an elderly woman to death at a retirement home for Catholic missionaries in southern France.

A huge police operation was launched to search for the masked man, whose identity and motive for the killing were unclear.

Firemen and rescuers stand on a road near a retirement home for monks in Montferrier-sur-Lez, southern France, early on after an armed man bursted in the home killing a woman with a knife.
Armed police were hunting the man inside the home, which is home to around 70 men and women who have served as missionaries in Africa. Authorities said it was a
Firemen and rescuers stand on a road near a retirement home for monks in Montferrier-sur-Lez, southern France, early on after an armed man bursted in the home killing a woman with a knife. Armed police were hunting the man inside the home, which is home to around 70 men and women who have served as missionaries in Africa. Authorities said it was a "criminal act". / AFP PHOTO / Pascal GUYOTPASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images

Security at religious and other sites has been increased after a string of Islamic extremist attacks in France, but the press service for the gendarmes, or military police, could not say whether the incident was linked to a terrorist act.

A gendarme service spokesman said early on Friday that more than 100 members of the security forces were sent to the village of Montferrier-sur-Lez, near the city of Montpellier in the southern tip of France.

Prosecutor Christophe Barret told reporters that a woman who works at the retirement home called police on Thursday night to say she had been attacked.

When the officers arrived, they found the body of another woman, gagged and tied up outside the building with three stab wounds.

The worker who alerted police did not suffer serious injuries but was deeply shocked, and no-one else at the residence was harmed, the prosecutor said.

Security forces searched the complex but did not find the killer. Around 60 people live who live at the facility are not in danger, and the search is continuing in a larger perimeter with help from a helicopter and police dogs.

The residence, called Green Oaks, is operated by the African Missions Society, and takes in retired priests, nuns and others who have worked on missions in Africa.

Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, spokesman for the French Catholic bishops' conference, tweeted condolences for the woman killed and added: "Our prayers reach out also to the missionaries attacked in their retirement home in the Herault (region). God give them all peace."

France has been under a state of emergency for a year since Islamic State group attacks on Paris killed 130 people.

Another Islamic State attack in July targeted a Catholic church in Normandy, where two attackers slit a priest's throat and held elderly parishioners hostage.

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