French court jails Rwandan for Nantes cathedral fire

A French court has sentenced a Rwanda man to four years in jail for starting a fire that severely damaged a Gothic cathedral in the western city of Nantes in 2020.

On Wednesday, the court ruled that Emmanuel Abayisenga, a volunteer at the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, was not mentally sound at the time of the fire, the AFP news agency reports.

In addition to the prison sentence, the court also banned Abayisenga from staying in the Loire-Atlantique region, where Nantes is located, for five years, and prohibited him from bearing arms.

Abayisenga is also facing legal action for a separate incident in which he allegedly killed a priest in western France in 2021.

He has reportedly asked unsuccessfully for asylum in France several times and in 2019 received a deportation order.

Prosecutors said the defendant set fire to the cathedral knowingly due to “huge anger and a feeling of revenge linked to his administrative situation”.

The fire was contained but the church’s famous 17th-Century organ, which had survived the French Revolution and bombardment during World War Two, was destroyed, AFP added.

Priceless artifacts and paintings were also destroyed in the blaze.

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