By India Today World Desk: Two toddlers stabbed by a knife attacker in the French Alpine town of Annecy were stable on Friday (local time) even as people hailed the man dubbed a “backpack hero”, for trying to stop the suspect from attacking by using his backpack as a shield.
Four children — aged between 22 and 36 months — and two pensioners were wounded during the assault on Thursday. The attacker, a 31-year-old Syrian man with refugee status in Sweden, is presently in custody.
Videos which circulated on social media showed 24-year-old Henri d’Anselme chasing the suspect out of a lakeside park as parents screamed and using his bag to disarm the knife-wielding attacker before pursuing him, The Guardian reported.
Speaking about his actions, he said he acted on instinct to prevent further bloodshed. “I didn’t even think about it. The brain turned off,” he told French television.
“It was impossible to let people be attacked by this person who seemed to be a furious madman. He tried at one point to attack me, our eyes met and I realised it was someone not in any normal state, there was something very bad in him that had to be stopped,” he said.
A devout Christian, Henri, who reportedly belongs to a large Catholic family from west Paris, had been on a year-long walking tour of French cathedrals for the past nine months. He made a stop at Annecy and took pictures of Lake Annecy on Thursday morning.
Henri then proceeded to the park, full of children and their parents basking in the morning sun. He was documenting his trip on his Instagram account when the attacker suddenly entered the scene and started stabbing people.
As screams of terror reverberated in the park, Henri saw the man with a large knife in the playground. Risking his life, he then chased the attacker out of the children’s area, attempting to disarm him by hitting his backpack and using it to defend himself.
“I tried to run with my 20 kg rucksack on my back, but then realised he was getting away so I let it go and continued to follow him with a small backpack. It seems mad, but you do what you can,” he was quoted by The Guardian as saying.
The 24-year-old said despite people calling him a “backpack hero”, he said he happened to be at the spot and any French citizen would have acted the same in such a scenario.
“I hear lots of people calling me a national hero, but in reality, I acted as any French person would have done. I just happened to be there, perhaps I was meant to be, but anyone would have done what I did. Everyone is capable of doing something similar,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the stabbing, calling it a “barbaric act”, and met Henri and hailed him for his actions. He also visited a local hospital in Annecy and said he received “positive news” about the injured who are recovering.
Macron said a young British girl had “woken up” after surgery and a Dutch toddler is also reportedly recovering, BBC news reported.
The attacker is still in custody as prosecutors are ascertaining the motive of the attack. He is scheduled to undergo a psychiatric assessment.
The suspect is believed to have been living homeless in Annecy since last autumn after leaving his ex-wife and three-year-old son in Sweden. Recently, his asylum claim was rejected by the French government.