France stabbing: Annecy playground attack on children ‘exploited by far-right'

TOPSHOT - A screen grab taken from a video obtained by AFPTV on June 8, 2023 shows a man armed with a knife running away after he attacked a group of pre-school children playing by a lake in the French Alps city of Annecy, wounding four as well as an adult and sending shockwaves 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. (Photo by AFPTV / AFP) (Photo by -/AFPTV/AFP via Getty Images)
A member of the public runs behind the suspect in an apparent attempt to slow him down. (Getty)

Little is known about the knifeman who attacked four young children and two adults in the southeastern French town of Annecy.

The youngest children - aged between 22 months and three years - were in their pushchairs as the attacker came for them in the park on Thursday. Footage shows people screaming, while other members of the public ran to slow the suspect down.

Several policemen were shown overpowering the knifeman, who has since been taken into custody. Two children and one adult were reported to be in a life-threatening condition.

One of the injured children has been confirmed as a British national, although it is not known if this was one of the more serious cases.

Annecy stabbing: Latest news

Police are yet to reveal any motivation for the attack, though a local prosecutor leading the investigation said on Thursday afternoon there was no indication that terrorism was the assailant's motivation. He was under investigation for attempted murder.

It is not thought the attacker was not on the radar of French security services either - who will be combing through his online profile for clues.

French forensic police officers work at the scene of a stabbing attack in the 'Jardins de l'Europe' park in Annecy, in the French Alps, on June 8, 2023. A Syrian refugee suspected of stabbing six people in the French Alpine town of Annecy on Thursday did not appear to have a
French forensic police officers work at the scene of the stabbing. (Getty Images) (OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE via Getty Images)

However, the fact that French police promptly publicised that the man is a Syrian national with legal refugee status has already played into the hands of the far-right, an expert has warned.

"My first instinct tells me this is really a mentally disturbed individual as opposed to being part of a terrorist organisation like al-Qaeda or the so-called Islamic State," Fawaz Gerges told Sky News, speaking before French police said terrorism was not currently being considered the motivation.

Gerges, chairman of contemporary Middle Eastern studies at London School of Economics, pointed out that French police - rather than anti-terror investigators - have made it clear that they are in charge of the case. He also stressed nothing was known publicly about the suspect’s profile or motivations.

This, he said, indicates that the attack is currently "not terrorist driven", although he did concede that it is important to "wait and see what the investigation shows".

However, some right-wing commentators did not wait for those inquiries to finish and quickly used the attack to pedal an anti-migration and anti-refugee narrative, Gerges warned.

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ANNECY, FRANCE - JUNE 08: Law enforcement stand near Paquier park where a man stabbed multiple people on June 8, 2023 in Annecy, France. Four children were among the victims in a knife attack in the southeastern French town of Annecy. (Photo by Richard Bord/Getty Images)
Armed police stand near Paquier park following Thursday's frenzied attack. (Getty Images) (Richard Bord via Getty Images)

"The fact that the individual is a refugee and an asylum seeker will likely play 'big time' in the French media as the situation unfolds," he said, particularly given the frequency of shootings and stabbings in France in recent years.

"Whether you’re talking about Italy or Germany or France or even the UK and Sweden, the question of refugees and asylum seekers has really become an integral part of domestic politics – literally fundamental.

"Remember one single operation whether in Germany or France by an asylum seeker, who could be mentally disturbed or whatever, could really impact the lives of millions of refugees all over the world, and also could be used and abused by ideologically dominated far-right groups, saying ‘we told you so, you see’."

Despite the calls for caution, a number of right-wing and far-right commentators have already seized on the attack on social media platforms to demand a restriction on refugees coming into Europe.

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ANNECY, FRANCE - JUNE 08: Law enforcement stand near Paquier park where a man stabbed multiple people on June 8, 2023 in Annecy, France. Four children were among the victims in a knife attack in the southeastern French town of Annecy. (Photo by Richard Bord/Getty Images)
Police are yet to reveal anything about the attacker's motive. (Getty Images) (Richard Bord via Getty Images)

'Mothers were crying'

Witnesses have given harrowing accounts of the knifeman approaching children in pushchairs.

"He jumped (in the playground), started shouting and then went towards the strollers, repeatedly hitting the little ones with a knife," a witness who gave his name as Ferdinand told BFM TV.

"Mothers were crying, everybody was running," said George, another witness and owner of a nearby restaurant.

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Several witnesses described the scene of the attack, the Le Paquier Park, as a usually tranquil place popular with tourists for its stunning views of Lake Annecy and the mountains.

Yohan, who works at an ice cream parlour just opposite the park, said: "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."