(Update 2: Includes new investigation details, authorities’ statements)
Paris, Jun 8 (EFE).- Four small children and an adult are in critical condition, and another adult was injured to a lesser degree, in a knife attack in a town in the French Alps, authorities reported on Thursday.
A man armed with a knife attacked a group of children ranging in age from 22 months to 3 years at 9:45 am in a park in the southeastern French tourist lake town of Annecy, a city of about 130,000, authorities said.
Among the injured children are one British girl, a Dutch boy and two brothers, according to authorities, who ruled out terrorism as the motivating factor in the attack.
“For the moment, there are no elements that can indicate that there was a terrorist motive,” said Annecy prosecutor Lisa Bonet-Mathis at a press conference near the site of the attack.
The attack is being investigated as the attempted murder of six people and the presumed attacker, who was quickly arrested, is being questioned by police to try and determine his motive, Bonet-Mathis added.
The man who allegedly wielded the knife is a 31-year-old Syrian who was granted refugee status in Sweden 10 years ago, marrying in that country and who is now the father of a 3-year-old girl. Eight months ago he and his wife separated and in late 2022 he came to France, where he has no police record and no history of psychiatric problems.
The suspect, identified as Abdalmash H., called himself a Christian and requested asylum in France, but French authorities told him that he could not do so because of his legal status in Sweden. When arrested, he was in possession of a cross and a Christian prayer book.
His ex-wife told BFM television by telephone that he was “a good father” and “a good student,” but that a point came where he wanted to leave Sweden because he did not feel comfortable there, adding that she had not heard anything from him for months.
Several witnesses said that the man began shouting and attacking the children with a knife, at least one of them in a stroller, as others present began screaming in fear and some of the nearby adults tried to stop him, including a 78-year-old man who was seriously injured.
One witness recorded a video of part of the attack, which authorities have requested not be posted online. In it, according to reporters who have viewed it, the attacker shouts “In the name of Jesus Christ” several times in English.
The attacker was dressed in black, wearing sunglasses and had a scarf tied around his head as he fled the scene of the attack with the small knife still in his right hand.
In other footage, helmeted motorcycle police can be seen subduing and detaining the alleged attacker just four minutes after the stabbing spree began.
Initial reports indicate that the man was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and Bonet-Mathis said that he will be held in police custody for a maximum of 48 hours before appearing before a judge.
“Attack of absolute cowardice this morning in a park in Annecy. Children and an adult are between life and death. The nation is in shock,” French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.
“Our thoughts are with them as well as their families and the emergency services mobilized,” he added.
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne called the attack “a hateful act” that has left the country “shocked” and she congratulated the police officers who arrested the man as well as the emergency services personnel for their rapid intervention.
France’s National Assembly observed a minute of silence to honor the victims of the attack.