PARIS — A manhunt was on Friday in southern France for a masked intruder — identified as a former member of the French military with no apparent links to Islamist extremism — suspected of killing a woman at a retirement home for Catholic missionaries.
The suspect in the Thursday night stabbing death is believed to be someone "in the entourage of this retirement home," Montpellier prosecutor Christophe Barret said at a news conference.
Some 130 police officers were searching for the suspect, whom Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, chief of the gendarmerie in the region, said was considered "very dangerous".
Officers patrolled on foot, in vehicles and by helicopter in the region around the village of Montferrier-sur-Lez, just north of Montpellier.
Barret said the suspect was identified with the help of an air gun and other elements he would not detail in a car near the residence.
A gendarmerie official close to the investigation said military decorations were among the elements found in the car and that the vehicle was traced to a former member of the military. He asked to remain anonymous to discuss progress in the case.
The official said the victim was a 54-year-old employee of the retirement home, where she worked as a laundress. No one else at the residence was harmed.
Authorities refused to identify the suspect so as not to compromise the search. What drove the masked intruder to attack and kill at the retirement home remained a mystery, but there was some certainty that terrorism was not a motive.
"There is no element linking the facts with Islamist terrorism," Barret said.
He told reporters that a woman who works at the retirement home called police Thursday night to say she had been attacked.
When the officers arrived, they found the body of another woman, gagged and tied up outside the building with three stab wounds, the gendarmerie said.
The residence, called "Green Oaks," is operated by the African Missions Society, and takes in retired priests, nuns and others who have worked on missions in Africa.