PARIS, France: French police have arrested a man suspected of shooting and seriously wounding two men outside a mosque in southwest France.
An 84-year-old man opened fire when the two victims, aged 74 and 78, found him trying to set fire to a mosque in Bayonne, a police statement said on Monday.
The victims were brought to a nearby hospital with serious injuries, while the suspected shooter, identified as Claude Sinke, was later arrested near his home. Sinke also set fire to a car outside the mosque.
“I strongly condemn the heinous attack perpetrated in front of the Bayonne Mosque,” President Emmanuel Macron said on his Twitter account.
“Everything will be done to punish the perpetrators, and protect our Muslim compatriots,” he added.
Separately, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner confirmed the arrest, and offered his “solidarity and support to the Muslim community.”
Marine Le Pen, the leader of a far-right National Rally party which has had links to violent anti-Muslim groups, also condemned the shooting.
“The attack … goes against all the values of our movement,” she said.
While Jean-Luc Melenchon, a left-wing leader said, “public speech must stop encouraging hatred.”
The mosque was cordoned off for investigations and a bomb squad was sent to Sinke’s home in Saint-Martin-de-Seignanx, a town of 5,000 people some 16 kilometres from Bayonne.
A team of psychologists was put together to provide care for witnesses of the incident.
The incident came just hours after Macron had urged France’s Muslims to step up the fight against “separatism” in the wake of the latest attack on French soil, in which a police employee stabbed four colleagues to death this month.
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.
In June this year, a gunman wounded an imam in a shooting at a mosque in the northwestern city of Brest, but police 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.