French police hunt Satanists after attacks

Brest, France - Police in western France were hunting yesterday a group of Satanists who they believe responsible for burning down a 16th century chapel at the weekend as well as a series of attacks on other Christian sites.

The Chapel of the Cross at Loqueffret near the remote tip of Brittany was gutted in Saturday’s blaze, which left just the four walls standing. Several original polychrome statues were also destroyed.

Police said yesterday that the doors of the chapel had been forced and the letters ABM sprayed on the walls.

The same graffiti was found at eight other Christian shrines - six roadside granite crosses and two fountains - which were torn down or smashed last month in an area of the Finistere department near the popular holiday resorts of Benodet and Concarneau.

The letters are believed to signify Aryan Black Metal, a Satanist movement which has links to heavy metal music, paganism and far-right politics.

“This area was heavily influenced by druidism, and many Christian sites were built on places sacred to the old religion. Maybe certain people want to return them to their roots. That’s one theory we are working on,” said gendarme Philippe Davadie, one of a 15-member team investigating the attacks.

In a similar series of incidents in early 2006, a chapel was destroyed in the neighbouring Morbihan department.

However police subsequently arrested a couple who admitted responsibility.

Like many of the thousands of Christian sites in western Brittany, the Loquefrett chapel was in a remote setting - in a wood outside the village in the Arree hills. A sum of 300,000 euros ($400,000) had just been raised to have the listed building renovated.

“This is a bolt from the blue. Now we are going to have start from scratch,” said village mayor Jean-Claude Albert.

“There are so many shrines that it is impossible for us to keep watch on them all. In the old days the priests lived next to the chapels and knew everything that was going on. But nowadays there are so few priests that many places are left unattended,” said Davadie.