Hundreds of residents have gathered in Annecy to honour those who risked their lives trying to tackle a man accused of stabbing four toddlers and two adults at a playground in the south-eastern French city last week.
As people laid flowers in the same park where Thursday’s attack took place, Annecy’s mayor, François Astorg, praised the “courage and professionalism” of those who had fought the assailant and described Sunday’s gathering as “a strong sign of unity and solidarity”.
“We are together,” he added. “We will face this together. “Our only choice is to respond with unity and hope … to choose the future rather than destruction. To gather is to build rather than hate.”
Among those who rushed towards the attacker were two municipal workers, a young man renting pedal boats, a maths teacher and a tourist. A childminder also hurried to rescue two wounded children.
France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, met the heroes during a visit on Friday, and the public prosecutor Line Bonnet-Mathis also paid tribute to those who, “by their action, were able to preserve human lives”.
The attack, which has left the normally peaceful lakeside city in shock, has prompted hundreds of people to visit the scene to lay flowers, soft toys and heart-shaped balloons.
On Saturday, Bonnet-Mathis announced that a man had been put under investigation – the equivalent of being charged – for attempted murder in connection with the stabbings.
The public prosecutor said Abdalmasih Hanoun, a 31-year-old Syrian refugee, had refused to speak or answer questions from the police or judges.
Bonnet-Mathis told a press conference the four children, aged between 22 months and three years, had been stabbed but confirmed their lives were no longer in danger. One of them, a three-year-old British girl who was on holiday in Annecy with her parents, was due to leave hospital in the next few days, the public prosecutor added.
One of the injured adults has already returned home. The second adult, who was stabbed and also received a gunshot wound when police arrived to tackle the suspect, has been operated on and is out of danger, the prosecutor added.
The suspect was reportedly not known to any intelligence services and was described as homeless and isolated. He has refugee status in Sweden, where his former wife and three-year-old child live.
Police described him as “agitated” and said he had given no explanation for his alleged actions. French television said police sources described him as “not in a normal state” but added that a psychiatrist had judged him well enough to be held in custody.
Bonnet-Mathis said the attack was still not considered terrorist-related but police were keeping an open mind and remained in contact with the terror unit.
BFMTV reported Hanoun had refused to leave his cell on Saturday morning. It showed footage of police officers carrying him in a chair to the vehicle to transport him to court.
Bonnet-Mathis also detailed the injuries to the children: a French boy, aged two, received two stab wounds to the thorax and abdomen; a French girl, aged nearly three, was stabbed three times in the thorax; and the British girl was stabbed once. The fourth child, a girl aged two from the Netherlands, was stabbed three times and is being treated in hospital in Geneva.
Tests on the attacker for alcohol and drugs had come back negative, Bonnet-Mathis said. Hanoun was found with a jack-knife and a rucksack, and was carrying “two Christian images” and a Swedish driving licence and wearing a cross.
Sam Jones, Kim Willsher and agencies
Published: 2023-06-11 14:24:36