Thursday 23 November 2017

French police hunt gunman after retirement home killing

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.
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.
Cathal McMahon

Cathal McMahon

Police were last night hunting for a gunman after a woman was found dead and 60 residents at a monks were held hostage at a retirement home in southwest France.

A masked man entered the home of African missions near Montpellier around 9.45pm last night.

He was reportedly armed with a sawn-off shotgun and a knife.

A source said the caretaker raised the alarm after freeing herself after being bound and gagged by the suspect.

The home in Montferrier-sur-Lez - about 10 kilometres north of Montpellier - is a home for retired missionaries who had previously worked in Africa.

Units of the local gendarmerie rushed to the scene on Baillarguet Road in Montferrier-sur-Lez, north of Montpellier and brought to safety about 60 residents in the home.

An official said that the suspect remained at large last night.

"One woman, a resident was assassinated. The security forces have evacuated the residents, about 60, who are safe and sound," the official said, adding that the search in the building was over.

"The (security forces) are still working to find the suspect."

It's understood that police, on entering the building, found the body of an elderly woman who had been stabbed several times.

"Nothing at this stage would indicate that this would be a terrorist act," another source said.

The motives of the suspect were "unknown" last night, according to the source.

France is currently under a state of emergency following a series of terrorist attacks by Islamist terrorists.

In July an 84-year-old Catholic priest was murdered during morning mass at the parish church in Saint Etienne-du-Rouvray, a suburb of Rouen.

The two attackers, who said they were from Islamic State, slit Father Jacques Hamel's throat before being shot dead by police.

Suspects arrested last weekend in France under anti-terrorism measures had been planning to launch attacks on December 1.

Police sources said that among the targets were France's counter-intelligence services hub in the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret, the grandiose police crime-investigation headquarters at the Quai des Orfevres, and the riverside high court building nearby.

Also targeted by the would-be attackers were the Disneyland Paris theme park 32 kilometres (20 miles) east of the city and the Champs Elysees shopping strip.

The targets of the five men being held and the date of the planned assault were established thanks to information found on a smartphone, the police sources said.

Seven suspected jihadis of French, Moroccan and Afghan nationalities were arrested in Strasbourg and Marseille in a series of coordinated raids on Saturday night. Two were later released.

Bernard Cazeneuve told a news conference French counter-terror officers had been monitoring the cell for more than eight months.

Security sources confirmed some of the suspects had fought in Syria and were linked to the Isis cell which carried out the Paris attacks in November 2015, which left 130 people dead.

The group's "nervousness" as they awaited a weapons delivery reportedly sparked their arrests as the risk to public safety increased.

Two handguns, an automatic pistol, a machine pistol and jihadist propaganda were all found during the raids.

More than 230 people have died in Islamist militant attacks around France since the beginning of 2015.

The most deadly of these took place just over a year ago in the capital, a co-ordinated series of assaults by gunmen and suicide bombers on the Bataclan music hall, cafes and bars, and on the Stade de France sports stadium on the edge of the city.

Some months after a lone terrorist ploughed a lorry into crowds in Nice celebrating Bastille Day in July.

A total of 418 people have been arrested in France for suspected links to terror networks since the start of the year, including 43 people this month alone.

On Tuesday, the US State Department issued a warning to Americans to "exercise caution at holiday festivals, events, and outdoor markets" on account of credible information indicating Isis, al-Qaeda and their affiliates are continuing to plan attacks in Europe.

Irish Independent

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