A British child is among four children and two adults who have been injured in the town of Annecy in the French Alps, after a knifeman went on a rampage in a playground, the UK’s foreign secretary has confirmed.
At least two of the children, both aged about three, were reported to be in a critical condition in hospital, while an adult also suffered life-threatening injuries, French national police said.
On Thursday afternoon the mayor of Annecy told French broadcaster BFM TV that the children who were injured were “out of the operating room” after the morning’s attack. François Astorg said: “For the moment, their condition seems stable.” The adult remained in surgery, he added.
The UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly, who was speaking at an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ministerial council press conference in France, called the attacks a “terrible act of violence” and said the British government was ready to support the French authorities in whatever way possible.
“We are also aware that one of the people, one of the children injured, was a British national,” he said. “We have already deployed British consular officials who are travelling to the area to make themselves available to support the family. And of course we stand in strong solidarity with the people of France at this terrible time.”
The UK prime minister called the incident an “unfathomable attack”. Speaking during a joint White House press conference with the US president, Joe Biden, Rishi Sunak told reporters: “All our thoughts are with those who were affected … I have been in touch with President Macron. We stand ready to offer any assistance that we can.”
Witnesses described the suspected knifeman running around in a frenzy, apparently attacking at random, before he was stopped by police near the banks of Lake Annecy.
The French prosecutor leading an investigation into the attack said the four children injured were aged between 22 months and three years, and that two adults were also injured.
According to reports, the attack happened at about 9.45am local time (0845 BST), when a man armed with a knife entered a children’s playground close to the lake. Video footage showed him prowling the play area and attacking a group of small children – including one in a pushchair – as they played. A video showed a man being chased in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
The former Liverpool footballer Anthony Le Tallec, who has also played for FC Annecy, witnessed part of the attack. He described seeing dozens of people running towards him and a mother shouting: “Run, someone is stabbing everyone, he’s stabbing children!”
The prosecutor said the suspect was a 31-year-old Syrian man, who had been detained by police. His motives were as yet unknown, but the attack did not appear to be terrorism-related, said the prosecutor.
The French prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, said the man had been granted refugee status in Sweden 10 years ago and was in France legally. She added that he had tried to apply for asylum in France, but was rejected as he already had asylum in Sweden. In his application, he said he was a Syrian Christian.
Borne added: “He has one child, who is the same age as the children he attacked.” She also confirmed he had no known criminal or psychiatric record.
BFM TV reported the man had separated from his Swedish wife eight months ago, and that she said she had not heard from him for four months.
The British home secretary, Suella Braverman, said she was in touch with her French counterpart, Gérald Darmanin, adding that she was “appalled” by the attack.
Braverman tweeted that her thoughts were with “the children, their families and the local community who have been affected by this shocking act”.