Suspect in French stabbing spree faces charges; children remain hospitalised

The motive behind attack yet to be ascertained

French stabbing attack (File) French President Emmanuel Macron talks with Henri, the 24-year-old 'backpack hero' | Reuters

The man suspected of stabbing four young children and two adults in a park in the French Alps is facing potential charges on Saturday, after an attack that reverberated across France and beyond.

The children, aged between 22 months and three years old, remain hospitalised, but the French president expressed hope after speaking to their doctors Friday that their conditions would continue to improve. The six victims came from four different countries: France, Britain, the Netherlands and Portugal.

The suspect, a 31-year-old Syrian political refugee with permanent residency status in Sweden, was presented before a judge Saturday, according to local officials. French judges on Saturday handed preliminary charges of attempted murder on the suspect. 

Police detained the suspect in the lakeside park in the town of Annecy after bystanders notably, a Catholic pilgrim who repeatedly swung at the attacker with his backpack sought to deter him. He is in custody pending further investigation.

The motive behind Thursday's savage attack, in and around a playground, remained unexplained. The prosecutor said it didn't appear to be terrorism-related.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the victims and their families, first responders and witnesses Friday. Macron said two young French cousins who were the most critically injured have stabilised, and doctors were "very confident”. “The 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 seriously injured adult was treated in Annecy. Portugal's foreign ministry said he is Portuguese and now out of danger. He was wounded trying to stop the attacker from fleeing from the police, it said.

The second injured adult was discharged from a hospital, his left elbow bandaged.

The pilgrim, Henri, a 24-year-old 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 he was carrying to swing at the assailant.

Henri's father said his son told that the Syrian was incoherent, saying lots of strange things in different languages, invoking his father, his mother, all the Gods.

The suspect's profile fuelled 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.


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