Frenchman, 84, charged over mosque attack

Bayonne (France) (AFP) –


An octogenarian accused of wounding two men in a shooting at a mosque in southern France has been charged and ordered held in detention, the prosecutor's office said Wednesday.

Claude Sinke, who stood as a candidate for the far-right National Rally in 2015 regional elections, tried to set fire to a mosque in Bayonne in the southwest on Monday, and shot two men, aged 74 and 78, who came out to investigate.

On Tuesday, investigators said the 84-year-old had wanted to avenge the burning of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris in April, which he blamed on Muslims.

They said there were questions about his mental health.

The prosecutor's office said in a statement that Sinke, who risks life imprisonment, is now being held on attempted murder, arson, and gun violence charges. Being charged does not necessarily mean a suspect will go to trial.

Monday's attack further unsettled France, already engulfed in a sometimes bitter debate about the observance of Islam in the secular country.

The shooting came just hours after President Emmanuel Macron had urged Muslims to step up the fight against what he called Islamic "separatism".

Investigators have said the Notre-Dame fire was an accident. There has never been any suggestion of arson.

Sinke was put through two days of psychological tests to determine whether he understood what he had done and can be put on trial for acting with intent.

He has admitted the crimes, investigators said.

His victims, one of whom was hit in the neck and the other in the chest, were in a stable condition in hospital, local authorities said Tuesday.

- National debate -

Mike Bresson, deputy mayor of Sinke's home village, Saint-Martin-de-Seignanx, said Sinke was known for his "verbal excesses".

According to the Sud-Ouest local newspaper, he had addressed an angry letter last week to Bayonne authorities and prosecutors, seeking to bring charges against Macron for "non-application of human rights".

In a tweet late Monday, Macron condemned the incident as a "heinous attack".

"The Republic will never tolerate hatred," the president said. "Everything will be done to punish the perpetrators and protect our Muslim compatriots. I commit myself to it."

Macron, a centris has been under pressure to show he is serious about cracking down on Islamic radicalism.

The issue re-erupted after the latest attack by an Islamist radical on French soil, in which a police employee stabbed four colleagues to death in Paris on October 3.

Shortly afterwards, the debate about secularism was reignited when a far-right National Rally politician asked a woman accompanying her son and other children on a school trip to remove her headscarf, which he described as an "Islamist provocation".

On Tuesday, the French senate approved draft law proposed by the National Rally to ban parents accompanying their children on school trips from wearing visible religious insignia.

The bill will next go to the National Assembly, where Macron's party holds a majority, which is unlikely to pass it.