Children wounded in knife attack in French Alps

France has suffered a series of traumatic attacks in recent years.

A man armed with a knife stabbed four preschool children and injured two adults by a lake in the French Alps on Thursday in an attack that sent shock waves through the country.

The suspect is a Syrian in his early 30s who was granted refugee status in Sweden in April, a police source told AFP. He was arrested at the scene.

Video of him taken by a bystander in Annecy, a town 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of the Swiss city of Geneva, shows him dressed in a black long-sleeved shirt and shorts while holding a small blade.

‘Man wanted to attack everyone’

Witnesses described the knifeman running around a public park on the banks of Lake Annecy in a frenzy, apparently attacking people at random, before he was shot by police.

“He wanted to attack everyone. I moved away and he lunged at an old man and woman and stabbed the old man,” former professional footballer Anthony Le Tallec, who was running in the park, told the local Dauphine Libere newspaper.

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Another witness, Malo, told BFM television that the man assaulted children before the old man and was “shouting, but it wasn’t really comprehensible”.

Two of the young children and an adult victim were in critical condition, a security source told AFP.

The local Haute-Savoie authority said there were “six victims, including four children” in a statement on Twitter.

Minute of silence

French President Emmanuel Macron called it an “attack of absolute cowardice”.

“The nation is shocked. Our thoughts are with (the victims) as well as their families and the emergency services,” he wrote on Twitter.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s office announced she was travelling to the scene, and MPs in the French parliament held a minute’s silence.

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“We hope that the consequences of this extremely serious attack… will not send the country into mourning,” parliament speaker Yael Braun-Pivet told MPs as she interrupted a raucous debate about pension reform.

The motive of the attacker is being investigated and the local prosecutor is expected to give further details at a press conference.

BFM television reported that the suspect identified himself as a Christian from Syria.

‘Dread and horror’ –

France has suffered a series of traumatic attacks in recent years.

In 2012, a Franco-Algerian Islamic extremist named Mohamed Merah killed seven people including three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school during a shooting rampage in the southern city of Toulouse.

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Most recently, the beheading of a teacher in broad daylight in 2020 near his school in a Paris suburb by a radicalised Chechen refugee led to shock and grief, as well as a national debate about the influence of radical Islam in deprived areas of the country.

Thursday’s attack is likely to spur greater scrutiny of France’s immigration and asylum policy, with right-wing politicians seizing on the suspected culprit’s identity as a refugee.

“The investigation will determine what happened, but it seems like the culprit has the same profile that you see often in these attacks,” the head of the right-wing Republicans party, Eric Ciotti, told reporters at parliament.

“We need to draw conclusions without being naive, with strength and with a clear mind,” he said.

The leader of the far-right National Rally party, Marine Le Pen, wrote that she had learned the news with “dread and horror”.

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Amid a spate of criminal attacks and growing fear about crime, Macron recently said France was undergoing a process of “de-civilisation” — a title of a book by a notorious far-right ideologue, Renaud Camus.

The comments echoed those in 2020 by Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who said France was “turning savage”.

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