Several small children were injured Thursday morning when a knife-wielding man attacked them in a playground in a park in the French Alpine town of Annecy. Eyewitnesses told local media that a man wearing a head covering attacked the children while they were playing.
Police were immediately deployed to the scene and French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said in a tweet that the sole suspect was "arrested thanks to the very rapid intervention of the police."
French police said later that there were a total of six people wounded in the attack, including four children.
Ambulances ferried the injured children to a nearby hospital. Local newspaper Le Dauphiné libéré said earlier that at least three of the children were in critical condition.
Plusieurs personnes dont des enfants ont été blessés par un individu armé d’un couteau dans un square à Annecy. L’individu a été interpellé grâce à l’intervention très rapide des forces de l’ordre.— Gérald DARMANIN (@GDarmanin) June 8, 2023
Reports said the children were all about three years old and were from a kindergarten class that was playing in the Jardins de l'Europe lakeside park.
The local police chief ordered the area cordoned off and urged the public to stay away. Soldiers blocked access to local roads as police questioned eyewitnesses.
Police were also ordered to set up a security perimeter around the Quai Jules-Philippe school, which is on the opposite side of the canal that flows into Lake Annecy.
President Emmanuel Macron condemned what he called an "absolutely cowardly attack."
"Children and an adult are between life and death," he said in a tweet. "The nation is in shock. Our thoughts are with them as well as with their families and the emergency services on the scene."
The Mayor of Annecy, François Astorg, arrived quickly at the scene of the "terrifying attack."
"All my thoughts are with the victims and the families," he said in a tweet.
Some media reports suggested the assailant was a Syrian national born in 1991, and the major French newspaper Le Parisien said police had identified the suspect as a Syrian man who had applied for asylum in the country, but there was no immediate public confirmation from the police.
#Breaking: Update - Video footage reportedly taken minutes after the terror stabbing attack in #Annecy, #France, showing you the Syrian suspect running away after being chased by locals, while people scream for help in the background for the children that had been stabbed. pic.twitter.com/WufuLkgMkf
— Sotiri Dimpinoudis (@sotiridi) June 8, 2023
One eyewitness told local radio the man was speaking English and clearly targeted the children. Unverified videos posted to social media appeared to show a man with a beard, wearing a headscarf, dark sunglasses, and shorts which revealed a leg tattoo running around in the park and chasing people with a knife in his hand.
The French National Assembly interrupted a debate on controversial pension reforms to observe a minute's silence for the victims.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announced that she would travel to Annecy on Thursday. The interior minister was also on his way to the town.