Volunteer confesses to setting French cathedral on fire

RENNES, FRANCE (AFP) – A volunteer has confessed to setting the fire that severely damaged a Gothic cathedral in the western French city of Nantes, his lawyer said yesterday, though his motives remain a mystery.

The 39-year-old, an asylum-seeker from Rwanda who has lived in France for several years, was arrested on Saturday after laboratory analysis determined that arson was the likely cause of the blaze, the local prosecutor’s office said.

“My client is cooperating,” lawyer Quentin Chabert said at a press conference in Nantes, without venturing on what prompted the attempt to burn down the cathedral.

“Obviously it was a relief for him to show, as he would say, his repentance. As a believer, it’s important for him to show this effort,” he said.

Prosecutors opened an arson inquiry into the early morning fire on July 18 after finding that it broke out in three different places in the church, which the volunteer had locked up the night before.

He was taken in for questioning the next day but later released without charge, with the cathedral’s rector saying “I trust him like I trust all the helpers.”

But Nantes prosecutor Pierre Sennes said in a statement on Saturday that he had been arrested and charged with “destruction and damage by fire,” and faces up to 10 years in prison and EUR150,000 (USD175,000) in fines.