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Macron Meets Victims and ‘Backpack Hero’ After Stabbing Attack in France

A day after a violent stabbing attack that injured six people, including four children, President Emmanuel Macron traveled to southeast France on Friday to meet with recovering victims and a bystander who has been hailed as “the backpack hero” after he tried to stop the assault by swinging his bag at the assailant.

Mr. Macron and his wife, Brigitte, arrived at a hospital in Grenoble, about 60 miles south of Annecy, the Alpine city where a day before a man with a switchblade knife went on a rampage, lunging at bystanders and families with strollers before police officers arrested him.

Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne said on Friday that the children, all 3 years old or younger, had undergone surgery and were in stable condition.

The suspect was identified by the French authorities as a homeless Syrian man who had obtained refugee status in Sweden a decade ago and arrived last fall in France, where his application for asylum was rejected because of his existing status in Sweden.

People brought flowers and lit candles at a makeshift memorial near the lakeside park in Annecy where the attack unfolded, a usually peaceful spot where tourists and residents come to relax and take in views of the surrounding mountains.

After meeting with the victims and their families, Mr. Macron was scheduled to meet with a 24-year-old man known to the French public only as Henri, who received widespread praise after he intervened in the attack.

Henri, who did not give his last name in interviews with the French media, told BFMTV that he was in the park in Annecy, one of many stops on a nine-month hitchhiking trip to visit France’s cathedrals, when he saw the assailant. He initially thought that the man was trying to steal someone’s purse, he said, until he saw him attack children.

“That’s when your brain turns off and you act like an animal, by instinct,” Henri said. “I didn’t even think.”

In harrowing video clips on social and mainstream media, Henri can be seen swinging a small black backpack at the assailant — a man wearing black clothes, sunglasses and a scarf around his head — and keeping him at a distance. Other bystanders also tried to run after the attacker and assist the injured children, Henri said.

When the man ran away, Henri dropped a bulkier, 40-pound bag that he was carrying on his back to stay in pursuit and continued to swing at him with the backpack. A city employee carrying a long plastic shovel also arrived, and he tried to ward off the assailant, Henri said.

“You try to act as you can, with what you have available to you,” he said.

In the video clips, the assailant can be heard saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ” in English before running and lunging at people with a knife.

French media reported that he had told immigration authorities that he was a Christian and that he was wearing a cross at the time of the attack, and Gérald Darmanin, the French interior minister, told TF1 television on Thursday evening that police officers who rushed to the scene on Thursday had witnessed “religious signs, Christian signs.”

Henri, who said he was a practicing Catholic, said he stayed in the park to pray after the police arrested the assailant. “It’s profoundly anti-Christian to attack perfectly innocent” people, he said, adding, “Anyone would have done what I did.”

The prosecutor’s office in Annecy said that the suspect was still in custody and being questioned by the police. The case is not being treated as a terrorist incident, his motivations remain unclear.

The French authorities have not fully identified the suspect, saying only that he was a Syrian refugee who had obtained asylum in Sweden in 2013 and lived there for a decade before leaving for southern Europe.

In an interview with the Agence France-Presse news agency, the man’s mother, who lives in the United States, said he had fled Syria in 2011 because of the civil war there and had reached Sweden after traveling through Turkey and Greece.

His ex-wife, also a Syrian refugee who obtained asylum in Sweden, told the Agence France-Presse, that she met the man in Turkey, later marrying him and having a child, but that he decided to leave Sweden last year after failing to become a Swedish citizen.

The man arrived legally in France last October, Mr. Darmanin said, but the French authorities rejected his asylum request on the grounds that he had already obtained refugee status in Sweden. The man was notified of that rejection on Sunday, just days before the attack.

“It’s a troubling coincidence,” Mr. Darmanin said.

The suspect had no criminal record and had never been flagged by French security services, Mr. Darmanin said, but police officers briefly checked in on him last Sunday because he was washing himself in Annecy’s lake. The man was expected to undergo a psychiatric evaluation on Friday.

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Mohammad SHiblu

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