Rwandan Migrant Previously Held and Released Over Nantes Cathedral Fire Admits Arson

A volunteer at Nantes Cathedral has told police that he lit three fires inside the 15th-century building he was entrusted to look after by church authorities.

Nantes cathedral was badly damaged in the arson attack on July 18th, with dramatic images and footage showing fire ripping through the west porch and tower of the “Gothic jewel” of the city, which caused serious internal damage and destroyed the organ.An arson investigation was launched almost immediately after the two-hour battle by firefighters to save the building, and shortly afterwards a Rwandan immigrant — who was a volunteer at the cathedral and had been responsible for locking up the building the night before — was held and questioned by police. The man was released without charge shortly afterwards.

But now the same — named only as ‘Emmanuel’ in French newspapers — 39-year-old man has been rearrested and has confessed, Le Figaro reports, to arson. The man, who came to France as a refugee from Rwanda in 2015 or 2016 and was looked after by the church after his arrival, told a magistrate after presenting himself to the police to confess on Saturday night that he lit three fires. Two were in organs, and one was in an electrical control panel.

Taken into police custody, the man faces up to ten years in prison and a fine of €150,000 ($175,000) for the destruction. he caused.

The motive of the attack is unknown. By the account of the cathedral’s rector the Rwandan male had volunteered at the church for some years and served at altar. He was trusted enough to be one of six volunteers who had a full set of keys to the building and was on a rota for locking the building up in the evening. The lawyer for the man said his client “bitterly regrets” what had happened.

That Nantes burned so soon after the devastating fire at Notre Dame cathedral Paris did not fail to elicit attention and comment in France, although the Notre-Dame fire is said to have been an accident, rather than arson. French President Emmanuel Macron remarked as the fire burnt earlier in July: “After Notre-Dame, Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral, in the heart of Nantes, is in flames… Support for our firefighters who take all the risks to save this Gothic jewel of the city of the Dukes.”

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