France knife attack: British child among young victims injured in playground stabbings

Onlookers scream for help as at least two children and one adult suffer life-threatening injuries

Jane Dalton
Thursday 08 June 2023 17:44 BST
France: Attacker 'jumped' on elderly person before being apprehended, says eyewitness

A British toddler is among four children injured in a knife attack in a playground in France that also left an adult with life-threatening injuries.

Horrific scenes unfolded in the French Alps on Thursday as a man armed with a knife launched a brutal attack at a tourist spot in the town of Annecy. He stabbed a child in a pushchair repeatedly as bystanders screamed for help, and it’s thought one man tried to tackle him.

Police who rushed to the scene opened fire, and video shows police chasing the suspect, who was arrested after being shot.

Police at the scene of the attack in the French alps

President Emmanuel Macron called the attack an act of “absolute cowardice” and said the nation was in shock.

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One adult suffered knife wounds and a second was hurt both with the attacker’s knife and later by the shot fired by police as they were making the arrest, said local prosecutor Line Bonnet-Mathis.

Foreign secretary James Cleverly said: “One of the children injured was a British national. We have already deployed British consular officials to support the family.”

“Our thoughts are with the victims and the families and we stand ready to support the French authorities in whichever way we can.”

Forensics officers investigate at the scene

Police cordon off the area following the horror attack

The suspect is a 31-year-old Syrian asylum-seeker, with no history of convictions and did not appear to have a terrorist motive, said Ms Bonnet-Mathis.

French TV said he had been separated from his wife, a Swiss woman, and they were both training as nurses.

Footage showed a man in dark glasses and with a blue scarf covering his head brandishing a blade as people screamed for help.

A helicopter was sent to rescue the injured

Emergency services at the scene of the stabbings

He first circled the playground, slashing at a bystander, and then climbed over its barriers to attack those inside. People around could be heard yelling: “Police! Police!”

A screaming woman was seen trying to push the attacker away from her pram, but he got past her and stabbed into the pushchair repeatedly.

He also slashed at a man carrying rucksacks who tried to approach him, seemingly trying to stop the attack, the video suggests.

An inquiry into what happened has begun, authorities say, and a second inquiry is underway into why police used a firearm.

French prime minister Elisabeth Borne said the attacker had no fixed abode and had refugee status in Sweden, which allowed him to travel in Europe, and he had requested asylum in France.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne meets emergency workers

Forensics officers at the scene in Annecy

The children injured were a 22-month-old; two two-year-olds a three-year-old. One was Dutch and one was English, she said.

As a wave of panicked bystanders rushed away from the scene, a mother urged a runner in the area to turn and run.

“There’s someone stabbing everyone along the lakeshore. He’s knifed children,” Anthony Le Tallec, a former professional football player with Liverpool FC, said she told him.

Le Tallec said he kept jogging, but soon saw a man heading his way with police officers in pursuit but struggling to catch up.

“I see that he’s heading straight for a group of elderly men and women. He attacks one grandpa, stabs him once, the cops can’t catch him, so I tell the cops, ‘shoot him’,” Le Tallec continued.

Police on a bridge near the scene in Annecy

Security forces gather in the playground

“Then they start shooting, they shoot at the person, right in front of me, and he falls to the ground.”

A spokesman for the national police force said the alleged assailant carried Swedish identity documents and a Swedish driving licence.

Home secretary Suella Braverman tweeted that she was appalled by the attack.

“My thoughts are with the children, their families and the local community who have been affected by this shocking act.

“I’m in touch with my friend, Minister GDarmanin (French interior minister Gerald Darmanin), to offer our full support.”

Eleanor Vincent, an American author on holiday in Annecy, said: “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.”

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,” she added.

In Paris, politicians interrupted a debate to hold a moment of silence for the victims.

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