MONTPELLIER (France) • French police are hunting for a man after finding a woman dead in a retirement home in southern France where some 60 Roman Catholic missionaries live, but they have ruled out any link to Islamist terrorism, a prosecutor said yesterday.
"At this stage, we can't say exactly what the perpetrator's motive was, but what we can say is that there is no link, none at all, with Islamist terrorism," Montpellier prosecutor Christophe Barret told reporters.
Security forces were called to the home in Montferrier-sur-Lez, about 10km north of Montpellier, late on Thursday, after a woman who had been bound and gagged freed herself and escaped from the home.
On entering the building, police found the body of a 54-year-old linen maid who had been stabbed several times, Mr Barret said.
He said investigators had found a car near the crime scene that contained a replica firearm and other materials that enabled them to identify a suspect. "The investigation is focusing on a local track, meaning somebody within the entourage of the retirement home," he said.
A man aged around 45 who lives in Montferrier-les-Lez has been identified as a suspect, a source close to the case said. Witnesses had reported that the killer appeared to have been carrying a shotgun when he burst into the home .
More than 130 police officers backed by a helicopter were searching for the main suspect yesterday after an unsuccessful manhunt overnight, local senior police officer Jean-Philippe Lecouffe said.
The home houses retired missionaries who had worked in Africa as well as a few nuns.
France has been under a state of emergency since a wave of Islamist attacks last year. Suspects arrested last weekend had been planning to launch attacks on Dec 1 at landmark sites in and around Paris. They were directed remotely by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, police said yesterday.
Extremists have carried out three large-scale attacks in France since January last year, when gunmen targeted the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket. Ten months later, ISIS militants massacred 130 people in attacks on the Bataclan concert hall, France's national stadium and a handful of bars and restaurants in eastern Paris.
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 militants claiming to be ISIS followers slit the throat of an 84-year-old priest at a church near Rouen.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE