Montpellier attack: Former soldier arrested on suspicion of murdering woman at Catholic retirement home

Police say incident not believed to be related to 'Islamist terrorism'

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A former French soldier has been arrested on suspicion of attacking a retirement home for Catholic missionaries in France.

The 47-year-old man is accused of killing a laundress whose body was found bound and gagged outside the Green Oaks home near the city of Montpellier on Thursday night.

He was caught after almost 24 hours on the run, with more than 130 police officers, road blocks and helicopters deployed in a large-scale manhunt.

Police at a retirement home for Catholic missionaries in Montferrier-sur-Lez in France, following an attack on 24 November (EPA)

Authorities had warned the suspect was "very dangerous" but sought to calm fears of a terror attack.

Initial statements from police said the man was armed with a “sawn-off shotgun” and knife but an air gun has since been recovered in his car.

The man, masked and dressed in black, attacked the retirement home at around 9.45pm local time (8.45pm GMT), when around 60 residents and workers were inside.

Alain Berthet, a local councillor in Montferrier-sur-Lez, said the home's residents - priests, nuns and others who had worked in Africa - were “very elderly with an average age of 75 although some are more than 90,” with many needing assistance to walk.

The unnamed suspect is alleged to have killed a 54-year-old employee of the retirement home, where she worked as a laundress. Her body was found bound and gagged with knife wounds. 

News of the killing was reverberating round France, with people voicing their horror on social media.

Suspicions quickly turned to terrorism just months after Isis supporters murdered a Catholic priest in an assault on a church in Normandy, but local prosecutor Christophe Barret said investigators believed the attack was not terror-related.

“At this stage we can't say exactly what the perpetrator's motive was, but what we can say is that there is no link, none at all, with Islamist terrorism,” he added.

Security forces were called to the home after a woman who had been bound and gagged freed herself and escaped.

The arrested man, who had served in France's parachute regiment, worked at the missionaries' home “some years ago” but was now unemployed, a source in the investigation told AFP.

He was arrested in the town where he lives, 10 miles from Montferrier-sur-Lez, and reportedly did not put up any resistance.

France remains under a state of emergency imposed following the murder of 130 people in the Paris attacks last November and a string of subsequent atrocities.

Several terror plots have since been uncovered, including plans by Isis militants to attack Disneyland Paris and the Champs Elysees.