Brest, France: A gunman opened fire outside a mosque in northwestern France on Thursday, wounding the local imam and another person, before fleeing the scene and later being found dead, officials said.
It was not immediately clear what motivated the incident in the port city of Brest in Brittany, but Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said he had ordered an increase in security measures around places of worship across France.
Imam Rashid Al Jay was hit by four bullets while a worshipper who was with him sustained injuries from two bullets, but neither was thought to have life-threatening wounds, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) and judicial sources said.
“(Al Jay) sustained two bullet wounds to the abdomen and two to the legs. The worshipper was hit in the legs by two bullets,” the CFCM said.
Brest deputy mayor Trabelsi Hosny said the imam walked out of the mosque with a friend when “a person introduced himself wanting to get a photo with the imam, which the imam agreed to”.
The man then fired at the imam and his friend, Hosny said.
The incident occurred around 4pm (6pm UAE), when several shots rang out in front of the mosque.
Police launched a manhunt, but soon found the attacker's Renault Clio car in a nearby neighborhood - and nearby lay the attacker, who had shot himself in the head, the spokesman said as reported by AP. The manhunt was called off, as police did not suspect the attacker had accomplices.
Another source said that the alleged gunman left written documents near where his body was found.
“He is unknown to the police, is not on file, and is not known to belong to a far-right movement,” the source said.
Police have opened an inquiry, with the Paris prosecutor’s office saying the situation was also being looked into by the anti-terror squad.
Imam targeted by extremists
Brest pharmacist Thierry Ropars, who administered first aid to the victims, said “everything happened very quickly”.
“I heard six or seven shots and when I came out of the pharmacy I saw two people on the ground, not far from the mosque’s entrance, wounded in the legs and stomach,” he added.
He then put pressure on the gunshot wounds to “stop them from losing too much blood”.
Abdallah Zekri of the CFCM said that Al Jay had already been threatened by Daesh “because he has made speeches in line with the values of the Republic”.
Romain Caillet, a French consultant on Islamist issues, said that Al Jay had been “targeted by [extremists] and ultra-right groups due to the imam’s videos that have made news”.
Writing on Twitter, Castaner said he ordered for security to be heightened.
“I have asked local officials to step up security around places of worship across the country,” he wrote.