Four small children and two adults have been stabbed to death in a knife attack in the tranquil French mountain town of Annecy. According to the government, the suspected attacker was a Syrian refugee.
Two of the children and one adult were hospitalized in a life-threatening condition, while the other victims were less seriously injured.
Video of the attack, taken by a bystander and confirmed by Reuters, shows the attacker leaping over a low wall into a children’s playground, repeatedly pouncing on a child in a stroller, while pushing aside a woman trying to grab him to fend off
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Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the alleged attacker, who is in police custody, is a 31-year-old Syrian national who was granted asylum in Sweden ten years ago.
He entered France legally, she said, and was carrying Swedish identity papers and a Swedish driver’s license.
The alleged perpetrator described himself as a Christian when he applied for asylum in Sweden and France, as the police quoted from the French media.
The suspected attacker, identified as Abdalmash H, has reportedly had refugee status in Sweden since 2013, where he married a Swedish national with whom he has a three-year-old son.
The young man has lived in France since the end of 2022 and is not registered with the police.
Abdalmash H. was reportedly carrying a cross and a Christian prayer book at the time of his arrest.
The local prosecutor, who led the investigation, said there was no evidence terrorism was the attacker’s motivation.
He was investigated for attempted murder.
The four children are still toddlers, between the ages of 22 months and three years, Annecy prosecutor Line Bonnet-Mathis told reporters.
One of them is a British citizen and another is Dutch, Bonnet-Mathis said.
As the attacker, who was wearing a blue plaid headscarf and sunglasses, started beating his victims, a passer-by tried to stop him by throwing his backpack at him, video showed.
The incident happened around 9.45am on Thursday (local time) at Le Paquier Park in Annecy, a town in the French Alps.
“The nation is in shock,” President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter, calling the attack “an act of absolute cowardice.”
“He was clearly after the babies,” a witness, who gave his name as Ferdinand, told BFM TV.
“Moms cried, everyone ran,” said George, owner of a nearby restaurant.
Another video, also confirmed by Reuters, showed the attacker, who was shot at by police as they were about to arrest him, being overpowered by officers.
The prosecutor said he was not injured.
Several witnesses described Le Paquier Park as a normally tranquil spot, popular with tourists for its stunning views of Lake Annecy and the mountains.
“It’s a place where babysitters and parents take small children to play. I often see around 15 toddlers there in the morning and the atmosphere is amazing,” said Yohan, who works at an ice cream parlor just across the street from the park.
France has been shocked by a spate of violent incidents in recent months, including last month’s fatal stabbing of a nurse in the northern city of Reims.
Also last month, a drunk driver accidentally killed three police officers.
Macron has denounced what he calls a “decivilization process” in the country, while opposition MPs say his government has been too lax on law and order.
“Nothing is more heinous than attacking children,” National Assembly Speaker Yael Braun-Pivet said on Twitter.
Parliament observed a minute’s silence over the incident.