Hooded intruder bursts into French missionaries’ retirement home, killing woman with knife

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 10:24am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 10:59pm

A hooded man brandishing a sawn-off shotgun and a knife stabbed a woman to death at a retirement home for missionaries and monks in southern France on Thursday, triggering a manhunt, with the country still on edge following a string of jihadist attacks.

The man tied up and killed the woman who worked at the home in the village of Montferrier-sur-Lez near the city of Montpellier, a prosecutor said.

More than 70 men and women, most of whom served as missionaries in Africa, live at the home.

Armed police searched the building but believe the man fled, sources close to the police operation said, and a large-scale police operation was underway to find the unidentified attacker.

The death set nerves jangling in France after a string of jihadist atrocities, but local prosecutor Christophe Barret said police believed it was not “Islamist terrorism”, adding that: “We are moving towards the idea of local crime, someone who was in the area of this home.”

The attack came with French security forces on their highest possible alert following a string of attacks by Islamic extremists, including on Christian targets.

Residents of the home “are very elderly with an average age of 75 although some are more than 90,” said Alain Berthet, a local councillor in Montferrier-sur-Lez.

Many of the residents require assistance to walk, he said.

The secretary general of the French Bishops’ Conference, Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, said in a Twitter message: “Our prayers tonight go to the woman who lost her life in this attack on a retirement home.”

Around two hours after the attacker burst into the home, more than a dozen police and emergency vehicles lined the roads near the home while police set up roadblocks to check vehicles passing through the area.

A large security perimeter, stretching for several hundred metres, had been set up and officers from elite armed unit RAID were on the scene.

France is under a state of emergency that gives security forces enhanced powers of surveillance and arrest.

Islamist extremists have carried out three large-scale attacks in France since January 2015, when gunmen targeted the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket.

Ten months later, Islamic State jihadists massacred 130 people in attacks on the Bataclan concert hall, France’s national stadium and a handful of bars and restaurants in eastern Paris.

And in July, a self-radicalised extremist ploughed a truck into crowds watching Bastille Day fireworks in the southern city of Nice, killing 86.

Two weeks later, two jihadists in their 20s claiming to be IS followers slit the throat of 84-year-old priest Jacques Hamel at a church near the northern city of Rouen.