PARIS – French police on Monday arrested a man with past far-right links suspected of shooting and seriously injuring two elderly men who spotted him trying to set fire to the door of a mosque.
The regional governor said the suspect set fire to a car before fleeing the scene in the southwestern city of Bayonne. The victims, aged 74 and 78, were hospitalized.
The suspect’s motive was not immediately known. The local press said he was 84 years old.
France’s far-right National Rally party confirmed press reports that the suspect had been a candidate in 2015 departmental elections before being kicked out for speaking in a way “deemed contrary to the spirit and the political line” of the anti-immigration party.
The incident came amid a divisive debate in France over the headscarves worn by some Muslim women and whether the nation’s secular principles were being honored. It drew quick condemnation from the political class.
President Emmanuel Macron condemned the “odious attack” in a tweet and vowed to “do everything” to punish attackers “and protect our Muslim compatriots.”
France “will never tolerate hate,” he said.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who is in charge of the nation’s religions, called for “solidarity and support for the Muslim community.”
National Rally leader Marine Le Pen distanced her party from the incident. The party regularly evokes fears of Islam conquering French civilization.
“These crimes must be treated with the most total severity,” she tweeted.
On the far-left, Jean-Luc Melenchon tweeted that “harassment of Muslims has produced an effect …. That’s enough now!”
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