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French priest killed by man awaiting trial for setting fire to cathedral

French priest killed by man awaiting trial for setting fire to cathedral
A man told police he killed French priest Father Olivier Maire, who housed him as he awaited trial for setting fire to the Nantes Cathedral. File photo by Joel Le Gall/PQR/Ouest France/EPA-EFE

Aug. 9 (UPI) -- A man awaiting trial for allegedly setting fire to a French cathedral was arrested Monday after admitting to killing a priest.

The suspect, a 40-year-old man from Rwanda, told officers he killed Father Olivier Maire, head of the Montfortain Missionary Order.

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Father Maire, 60, had offered the man a home after he was released on bail two months ago while awaiting trial after he was accused of having deliberately set fire to the Nantes Cathedral last July.

Maire's body was found at a location indicated by the suspect, but police did not reveal further details about his death.

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Yannick Le Goater, a deputy prosecutor, told The Washington Post the suspect had recently discussed leaving his home with the order, where he was subject to judicial supervision and had been transferred to a psychiatric hospital until the end of last month.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called Maire's killing a "dramatic assassination" on Twitter and said he would travel to the region.

President Emmanuel Macron also mourned the priest's death on Twitter.

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"He bore the generosity and love of the other even in the features of his face," Macron wrote. "On behalf of the nation, I pay tribute to Father Olivier Maire. Warm thoughts for the Montfortains and all Catholics in France. Protecting those who believe is a priority."

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Prior to the Nantes fire, the suspect had been refused permission to remain in France and was subject to an expulsion order that was suspended as he awaited his arson trial.

Marine Le Pen, head of the National Rally party and Macron's primary rival in France's presidential race, said the killing represented a failure of the country's immigration system.

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"So in France you can be an illegal immigrant, torch Nantes cathedral, never be expelled and re-offend by murdering a priest," she wrote on Twitter.

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