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Annecy Stabbings Lead to Charges Against Syrian Refugee

A homeless Syrian man in his 30s was charged with attempted murder and detained in France on Saturday in connection with a violent stabbing attack this past week that injured two adults and four young children, a prosecutor said.

There was no indication that the attack was an act of terrorism, said Line Bonnet-Mathis, the public prosecutor in Annecy, the southeastern French city where the attack unfolded on Thursday. The attacker, now in custody, has also been charged with resisting arrest with a weapon.

Investigators have yet to determine the motive of the assailant, who they said went on a violent rampage, lunging at young families at a playground in one of Annecy’s most popular lakeside parks, and stabbing his victims with a switchblade. Bystanders, including a so-called backpack hero, chased the man before police officers arrested him.

The authorities have not publicly named the man but said he had obtained asylum in Sweden, lived there for a decade and still has a 3-year-old child there. At the time of his arrest, he was wearing a cross necklace and carrying other Christian symbols as well as 480 euros ($516), Ms. Bonnet-Mathis said. Witnesses heard him mention his ex-wife, his daughter and Jesus Christ during the assault, the prosecutor added.

The assailant has refused to answer investigators’ questions, Ms. Bonnet-Mathis said at a news conference on Saturday.

“As it stands, it is premature to assess the motivation behind this act,” she said.

Two specialist magistrates, who under French law are tasked with investigating the most serious and complicated crimes, have opened a formal investigation, Ms. Bonnet-Mathis said.

She said that the six victims were no longer in a critical condition and were expected to recover. Four of the them were children aged 3 or younger, including a French boy and girl who were in Annecy with their grandmother, a British girl who was on vacation with her parents, and a Dutch girl who was quickly transferred to Geneva for surgery, she said.

Ms. Bonnet-Mathis said that the man, a Syrian refugee born in 1991, was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the attack. The man was homeless and witnesses said they had seen him sleep in the common area of a downtown residential building. After leaving Syria, he arrived in Sweden in 2013 and obtained asylum there, but left in 2022, for reasons that remain unclear. He went through Italy and Switzerland before arriving in France, where his application for asylum was rejected.

A psychiatric evaluation found that he was not suffering from any “clear delusional elements” and was fit for questioning, Ms. Bonnet-Mathis said. But the psychiatrist who examined him also cautioned that it was “premature” to say whether he had an underlying psychiatric illness, she added.

Such attacks have receded from the headlines in France in recent years, but the country is still scarred and on high alert because of previous incidents. France was struck by large-scale Islamist terrorist attacks in 2015 and in 2016, followed by a string of smaller but still deadly shootings and stabbings in subsequent years, often carried out by lone assailants.

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Mohammad SHiblu

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