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Man arrested after placing 'improvised explosive device' inside Toulouse cathedral

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP
Security personnel gather at the entrance of Saint Etienne Cathedral in Toulouse.
Security personnel gather at the entrance of Saint Etienne Cathedral in Toulouse.   -   Copyright  MATTHIEU RONDEL / AFP

French police have arrested a man on suspicion of leaving a homemade explosive device outside a cathedral in Toulouse.

Authorities evacuated the Saint-Etienne Cathedral on Friday after a suspect entered during Morning Mass and left a suspicious package.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the package was an "improvised explosive device" that did not have a detonator and failed to explode.

Darmanin confirmed on Twitter that the device had been neutralised and there were "no casualties".

"Thanks to the rapid intervention of the demining services, the police operation in Toulouse is over," he said.

"The individual suspected of having deposited the package ... has been arrested," he added in a later tweet after a manhunt lasting several hours.

The Toulouse prosecutor told AFP that the suspect was known to authorities for offences including drunk driving, drugs and contempt of court.

The prosecutor added that the man has been "implicated in other cases and twice declared criminally irresponsible", the prosecutor added. The motive for the incident is still unclear.

An initial alert advising people to avoid central Toulouse was later lifted.

The chief cleric of the cathedral, Simon D'Artigue, told local media that the suspect -- initially thought to be a delivery driver -- escaped after placing a package on the altar steps.

"I strongly condemn this act and regret that in our country, a place of prayer and its faithful are targeted by an explosive device," Toulouse Archbishop Guy de Kerimel said in a statement.

French churches have been the target of extremist violence in recent years.

In 2020 a knife attack at the Nice basilica left three worshipers dead, while an 84-year-old priest was killed at the church altar in a town in Normandy in 2016.