A knife-wielding man stabbed four children and two adults at a park in southeastern France on Thursday, the authorities said, in an attack that President Emmanuel Macron called “absolutely cowardly”.
The local authorities said in a statement that a suspect had been arrested in the attack, which took place in Annecy, a city of about 130,000 people, and that all of the wounded had been hospitalised. Their immediate condition was not clear, but Macron said on Twitter that “children and one adult are between life and death” as a result of the attack. He added, “The nation is in shock.”
The attack occurred just before 10am (local time) at a popular lakefront park in Annecy. Anthony Le Tallec, a former professional soccer player who ended his career in the city, said that he had witnessed the attack. In an Instagram story from the park, where he filmed police officers and emergency services at the scene, he said that he had been jogging on the lakefront when he saw dozens of people running in the other direction.
A suspect, identified by police as a 31-year-old Syrian, was detained in connection with the horrific attack. French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said he had refugee status in Sweden.
A prosecutor leading the investigation said the man’s motives were unknown but did not appear to be terrorism-related.
“There was a mom who told me: ‘Run! Someone is stabbing everyone. He stabbed children,’” Le Tallec said.
He then moved out of the way as the assailant, being chased by the police, ran towards him, he said. The attacker rushed up to an older man nearby and stabbed him, Le Tallec added.
“It’s crazy to see this in Annecy,” he said.
Lead prosecutor Line Bonnet-Mathis said all four children suffered life-threatening knife wounds. The youngest is 22 months old, two are age two and the oldest is three, she said. Two of them were tourists, she said. One of the young victims is British, the prosecutor and British authorities said. There was confusion over the nationality of the other child who was not from France. Bonnet-Mathis said the child was Dutch, but Germany’s chancellor said one of the child victims was German.
One adult also suffered knife wounds and a second adult was hurt both with the attacker’s knife and later by a shot fired by police as they were making the arrest, Bonnet-Mathis said.
Video appearing to show the attack in and around a children’s play park was posted on social media. The footage showed a man in dark glasses and with a blue scarf covering his head brandishing a knife, as people screamed for help.
The man appeared to shout “on the name of Jesus Christ” as he waved his knife in the air, while people nearby could be heard screaming: “Police! Police!”
A woman who said she had witnessed the attack told a local radio station that the assailant had jumped over a park fence and stabbed a small girl and a baby in a stroller. “I really thought it was a joke, but not at all,” the woman, who was not identified, told France Bleu radio. “When I heard the mother’s scream, I started to run.”
Antoine Armand, a lawmaker for the Haute-Savoie area, which includes Annecy, called the stabbing “an attack against our soul”.
France’s lower house of parliament observed a minute’s silence.
New York Times News Service and AP/PTI