PARIS (AP) — The prosecutor leading an investigation into a horrific knife attack in a French Alpine town says four children aged between 22 months and three years suffered life-threatening wounds and that two adults also were injured.
The prosecutor said the attacker’s motives remain unknown but do not appear to be terrorism-related.
The suspect, a 31-year-old Syrian, was detained following the Thursday morning attack in Annecy. French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the man has refugee status in Sweden.
The Associated Press reported earlier that as bystanders screamed for help, a man with a knife stabbed several very young children, including at least one in a stroller, and also assaulted adults at a lakeside park in the French Alps on Thursday. The savagery left at least two children and one adult with life-threatening injuries, authorities said.
Video appearing to show the attack in and around a children’s play park in the Alpine and lakeside town of Annecy 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 name of Jesus Christ” as he waved his knife in the air, while people nearby could be heard screaming: “Police! Police!”
He slashed at a man carrying rucksacks who tried to approach him. Inside the enclosed play park, a panicked woman frantically pushed a stroller as the attacker approached, yelling “Help! Help!” and rammed the stroller into the barriers around the site in her terror.
She tried to fend off the attacker but couldn’t keep him from leaning over the stroller and stabbing downward repeatedly. Afterward, the man strolled almost casually out of the park, letting himself out through a gate, with the man carrying two rucksacks still chasing after him.
French President Emmanuel Macron described the assault as an “attack of absolute cowardice.” Of the victims, he said “children and an adult are between life and death.”
“The nation is in shock,” Macron tweeted.
Local police said the four child victims all were under age 5. A British child was among the injured, said UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.
French national police said two of the children, both around 3, suffered life-threatening injuries, as did one adult.
A witness who spoke to French broadcaster BFMTV said he saw the attacker jumping on an elderly man, and stabbing him repeatedly. The witness said he yelled at the police to act.
“I screamed, screamed at them to intervene,” he said.
An ice cream seller who works in the waterside park said he’d seen the attacker there several days earlier, looking out at the lake ringed by mountains.
Local police said a second adult also was injured and was being treated with the others in a hospital. They gave no other details about the victim, and the discrepancy in the number of adult victims wasn’t immediately explained.
Eleanor Vincent, an American author vacationing in Annecy, told The Associated Press of her shock at seeing an emergency helicopter descending to the picturesque park.
“As soon as I heard the sirens and saw police running, I knew something horrible was happening. I am in shock. It’s a park where they take children out to walk,” Vincent said.
Crowds stood in “absolute silence,” dumbfounded as the tragedy unfolded, she said.
“As a parent who has lost a child, I know what these parents are experiencing. It’s a horror beyond belief,” Vincent added.
In Paris, lawmakers interrupted a debate to hold a moment of silence for the victims.
The assembly president, Yaël Braun-Pivet, said: “There are some very young children who are in critical condition, and I invite you to respect a minute of silence for them, for their families, and so that, we hope, the consequences of this very grave attack do not lead to the nation grieving.”