French judges on Saturday handed preliminary charges of attempted murder to a man suspected of stabbing four young children and two adults in a French Alps park, an attack that reverberated across France and beyond.
Four children and two adults were injured in the attack, in and around a playground, in Annecy. They have now been taken off the danger list, lead prosecutor Line Bonnet-Mathis told a news conference.
Bonnet-Mathis said the suspect, a 31-year-old Syrian refugee, had been examined by psychiatrists who deemed him fit to face charges. She said the motive for the savage attack remained unclear, but it did not appear to be terrorism-related.
Witnesses said they heard the attacker mention his daughter, his wife and Jesus Christ, according to the prosecutor, who said he had Christian objects with him at the time of the attack.
Police detained the suspect after bystanders sought to deter him – notably, a young pilgrim who repeatedly swung at the attacker with his backpack.
President Macron visits victims
French President Emmanuel Macron visited the victims and their families, first responders and witnesses on Friday.
Macron said two young French cousins, who were critically injured, have stabilised, and doctors were “very confident.”
A wounded British girl “is awake, she’s watching television,” Macron added. A wounded Dutch girl also has improved and a critically injured adult — who was both knifed and wounded by a shot that police fired as they detained the suspected attacker — is regaining consciousness, Macron said.
The French President tweeted he was “grateful to and proud of” those who had intervened to help the victims.
The seriously injured adult was treated in Annecy and is “now out of danger.” He is a Portuguese man and the Portuguese embassy said he was wounded “trying to stop the attacker from fleeing from the police”. The second injured adult was discharged from a hospital, his left elbow bandaged.
A 24-year-old pilgrim called Henri, who is on a nine-month walking and hitchhiking tour of France’s cathedrals, said he’d been setting off to another abbey when the horror unfolded in front of him. The attacker slashed at him, but Henri held his ground and used a weighty backpack to swing at the assailant.
Henri’s father said his son “told me that the Syrian was incoherent, saying lots of strange things in different languages, invoking his father, his mother, all the Gods.”
Suspect’s profile fuels migration debate
The suspect’s profile has fueled renewed criticism from far-right and conservative politicians about French migration policies. But authorities noted that the suspect entered France legally because he has permanent residency status in Sweden. Sweden and France are both members of the EU and Europe’s border-free travel zone.
He applied for asylum in France last year and was refused a few days before the attack, on the grounds that he had already won asylum in Sweden in 2013, the French interior minister said.