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Four toddlers stabbed in France, government says suspect is Syrian refugee

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By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

ANNECY, France (Reuters) – Four toddlers and two adults were stabbed in a knife attack in the tranquil French mountain town of Annecy on Thursday, and the government said the suspected assailant was a Syrian refugee.

Two of the children and one adult were in hospital in a life-threatening condition, while the other victims were less seriously hurt.

A video of the attack, taken by a bystander and verified by Reuters, showed the assailant jump a low wall into a children’s playground and repeatedly lunge at a child in a stroller, pushing aside a woman who tries to fend him off.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the suspected attacker, who was in police custody, was a 31-year old Syrian national who was granted asylum in Sweden 10 years ago. He had entered France legally, she said, and was carrying Swedish identity documents and a Swedish driving license.

The local prosecutor leading the investigation said there was no indication that terrorism was the assailant’s motivation. He was under investigation for attempted murder.

The four children were just toddlers, aged between 22 months and three years, Annecy prosecutor Line Bonnet-Mathis told reporters.

One of them was a British national, another was Dutch, Bonnet-Mathis said.

As the assailant, who wore a blue-chequered headscarf and sunglasses, slashed at his victims, one bystander tried to stop him by throwing his backpack at him, the video showed.

The incident took place at around 0745 GMT in Le Paquier park in Annecy, a town in the French Alps.

“The nation is in shock,” President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter, calling the attack “an act of absolute cowardice”.

MOTHERS CRYING

“He clearly targeted the babies,” a witness who gave his name as Ferdinand told BFM TV.

“Mothers were crying, everybody was running,” said George, owner of a nearby restaurant.

Another video, also verified by Reuters, showed the assailant, who was shot at by police as they sought to detain him, being overpowered by officers. He was not injured, the prosecutor said.

Several witnesses described Le Paquier park 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 Foroudi; Writing by Geert De Clercq and Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Toby Chopra and Frances Kerry)

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