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Suspect held in hunt for knife attacker who killed woman in missionary home

Published 25/11/2016

The incident happened in the village of Montferrier-sur-Lez, near the southern town of Montpellier
The incident happened in the village of Montferrier-sur-Lez, near the southern town of Montpellier

Police on Friday arrested a suspect in the fatal knife attack on a woman at a retirement home for Catholic missionaries in southern France after a vast manhunt, authorities said.

The 47-year-old suspect - with no apparent links to Islamist extremism - was arrested about 100 metres from his home in a town not far from the scene of the attack on Thursday night, a gendarmerie press official said.

The official said reports that the suspect was a former member of the French military had not yet been confirmed, adding that investigators had uncovered information that contradicted a past military link. The suspect was not identified by name in keeping with French custom.

A masked intruder tied up two women at the retirement home for former missionaries in Africa. One of the women managed to call police, who found the victim, a 54-year-old employee, bound and tied up outside the building with three stab wounds, prosecutor Christophe Barret told a news conference before the arrest.

Mr Barret said the suspect was believed to be someone "in the entourage of this retirement home".

The retirement residence is located in Montferrer-sur-Lez, just north of Montpellier. The suspect was arrested in Saint-Mathieu-de-Treviers, a few miles further north.

France has been in a state of emergency since the Paris attacks one year ago that killed 130, and reacted quickly to the attack. Some 130 police officers searched the area for the masked attacker on foot, in vehicles and by helicopter. Officials worked quickly to exclude a link between Islamist extremists and the retirement home attack.

"There is no element linking the facts with Islamist terrorism," Mr Barret, the prosecutor, said. What drove the masked intruder to attack and kill remained a mystery.

A car found near the retirement residence helped identify the suspect, the prosecutor said, adding that an air gun and other elements were found inside the vehicle.

A gendarmerie official close to the investigation who had asked to remain anonymous while the manhunt was under way said military decorations were among the items.

The residence, called Green Oaks, is operated by the African Missions Society, and takes in retired priests, nuns and others who have worked on missions in Africa.

AP

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