ANNECY, France (Reuters) – A Syrian national wounded four young children and an adult in a knife attack in a park in the southeastern French town of Annecy on Thursday, police said, and some of the victims were in critical condition.
A police spokesman said the attacker was a 31-year old Syrian asylum seeker who carried Swedish identity documents and a Swedish driving license. He entered France legally and was not known to security agencies.
His motives were unclear, an investigative source said, adding that anti-terrorism authorities had not been asked to lead the investigation at this stage.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who travelled to Annecy with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, said on Twitter that the attacker had been arrested. BFM TV showed footage of several policemen overpowering an individual in the park.
Two children and one adult were in life-threatening condition, while two children were less seriously hurt, police said. The wounded children were aged between 22 months and 3 years, they said.
One of the wounded children was a British national, British foreign minister James Cleverly said.
“Children and one adult are between life and death. The nation is in shock,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter, calling the attack “an act of absolute cowardice”.
Witnesses said at least one of the wounded children had been in a stroller. The incident took place at around 0745 GMT in the playground of a picturesque lakeside park in Annecy, a town in the French Alps.
“He jumped (in the playground), started shouting and then went towards the strollers, repeatedly hitting the little ones with a knife,” a witness who gave his name as Ferdinand told BFM TV.
“He clearly targeted the babies,” he said.
“Mothers were crying, everybody was running,” said George, owner of a nearby restaurant.
Several witnesses described Le Paquier park where the attack took place as an usually tranquil place popular with tourists for its stunning views of Lake Annecy and the mountains.
“It’s a place where babysitters and parents take young children to play. I often see around 15 toddlers there in the morning, and the atmosphere is fantastic,” said Yohan, who works at an ice-cream parlour just opposite the park.
France has been shocked by a number of violent incidents over the past few months, including the fatal stabbing last month of a nurse in the northern town of Reims. Also last month, a drunk driver accidentally killed three policemen.
Macron has denounced what he calls a “de-civilisation process” in the country, while opposition lawmakers say his government has been too lax on law and order.
“Nothing more abominable than to attack children,” National Assembly speaker Yael Braun-Pivet said on Twitter. Parliament observed a minute of silence to mark the incident.
(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten, Geert De Clercq, Juliette Jabkhiro, Layli ForoudiWriting by Geert De Clercq and Silvia AloisiEditing by Toby Chopra and Frances Kerry)