Illegal African Immigrant Admits Arson
Illegal African immigrant, a Rwandan national with an expired visa, was arrested in connection with the investigation into the fire in Nantes Cathedral. He was however released on July 19 ‘without charges’. His lawyer, Quentin Chabert, said ‘no human lives were endangered’. Secondly, the lawyer argued, ‘Catholic communities must be able to show mercy’ towards the perpetrators of the fire.
Rwandan 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 priceless irreplaceable 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 illegal migrant identified 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: at the main organ, the smaller organ, and the electrical 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 motives behind the actions of the 39-year-old native of Rwanda have not yet been announced. It is only known that he volunteered to help in the cathedral and on the day of the fire his duty entailed closing and locking the great cathedra;s doors. However, according to records from the security cameras, he left the Cathedral 15 minutes after receiving the calls about a fire in the building.
By the account of the cathedral’s rector, the Rwandan male had volunteered at the church for some years and served at the 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.”
Three days later, President Macron, instead of arriving at the scene of the fire, played football with teenagers in Chambord. In the middle of an improvised football game, Emmanuel Macron’s skull collides a youngster’s head. Video
‘Stone by stone’
The blaze came 15 months after the devastating fire at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, which raised questions about the security risks for other historic churches across France.
While firefighters were able to contain the Nantes blaze after just two hours and save its main structure, the famed organ, which dated from 1621 and had survived the French Revolution and World War II bombardment, was destroyed.
Also lost were priceless artefacts and paintings, including a work by the 19th-century artist Hippolyte Flandrin and stained glass windows that contained remnants of 16th-century glass.
Work on the cathedral began in 1434 and continued over the following centuries until 1891.
It had already been damaged by a more serious fire in 1972, when officials added concrete reinforcements while redoing the roof over the next 13 years.
The French government has said it will ensure the cathedral’s restoration, though very few, if any, elements of the main organ are likely to be saved, said Philippe Charron, head of the regional DRAC state heritage agency.
“It will take several weeks to secure the site… and several months of inspections that will be carried out stone by stone,” he said.
Reconstruction will take several years, he said.
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