France: Suspect in Nantes Cathedral arson attack confesses, lawyer says | News | DW | 26.07.2020

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France: Suspect in Nantes Cathedral arson attack confesses, lawyer says

A volunteer church worker has admitted to starting three fires inside a 15th-century cathedral in the French city of Nantes. His lawyer says his client "bitterly regrets his actions" and is "consumed with remorse."

French authorities on Sunday charged a church volunteer with arson after he confessed to setting alight the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in Nantes, western France. 

The July 18 blaze caused significant damage to the 15th-century gothic structure, destroying its famed organ and shattering its stained-glass windows. 

The 39-year-old suspect had previously been questioned immediately after the fire and released without charge. 

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Watch video 10:14

France opens arson probe after Nantes Cathedral blaze

'Consumed with remorse'

In a statement, Nantes prosecutor Pierre Sennes said the man had been detained again on Saturday based on evidence gathered by police forensic experts and interviews with more than 30 people.

During further questioning, he then admitted that he was responsible for the fire, his lawyer, Quentin Chabert, said.

"He confessed to the allegations against him which, as the prosecutor indicated, are causing destruction and damage by fire," the lawyer told France Info radio. 

"He bitterly regrets his actions … My client is consumed with remorse."

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Possible jail time

The suspect, an asylum-seeker from Rwanda who has lived in France for several years, had apparently been tasked with locking up the cathedral on the night of the fire. 

French media quoted the Nantes prosecutor as saying the suspect had admitted to lighting three fires: on two cathedral organs and an electrical box. It was still unclear what his motives were.

The arson charge carries a 10-year jail term and a fine of €150,000 ($175,000), the prosecutor said.

The cathedral was built over a period of 500 years and completed in 1891. It had already been damaged in a more serious fire in 1972, which incinerated much of its wooden frame.

Although firefighters were able to save the cathedral's main structure in the latest blaze, its famed organ — dating from 1621 — was destroyed. 

nm/mm (AP, AFP)

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