PARIS (AP) — The man suspected of stabbing four young children and two adults in a park in the French Alps faces potential charges on Saturday, after an attack that reverberated across France and beyond.
The children, aged 22 months to 3 years, remain in hospital, but the French president expressed hope after speaking to their doctors on Friday that their condition would continue to improve.
The six victims came from four different countries: France, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Portugal.
The suspect, a 31-year-old Syrian political refugee with permanent resident status in Sweden, was due to appear before a judge on Saturday, according to local officials. The regional prosecutor, Line Bonnet-Mathis, was to give a press conference later in the day.
Police arrested the suspect in the lakeside park in the city of Annecy after bystanders – including a Catholic pilgrim who repeatedly hit the attacker with his backpack – sought to deter him.
The motive for Thursday’s savage attack, in and around a playground, remained unexplained. The prosecutor said it did not appear to be related to terrorism.
French President Emmanuel Macron visited the victims and their families, first responders and witnesses on Friday.
Macron said two young French cousins who were most seriously injured have stabilized and doctors are “very confident”.
The injured British girl “is awake, she is watching television,” Macron added. An injured Dutch woman has also improved and a seriously injured adult – who was both stabbed and injured by a gunshot fired by police as they arrested the alleged attacker – is regaining consciousness, Macron said.
The seriously injured adult was treated in Annecy. The Portuguese Foreign Ministry said he was Portuguese and “now out of danger”. He was injured “trying to prevent the attacker from fleeing the police”, he added. The second injured adult was discharged from hospital with his left elbow bandaged.
The pilgrim, Henri, a 24-year-old who is on a nine-month walking and hitchhiking tour of cathedrals in France, said he had left for another abbey when the horror unfolded before him . The assailant punched him, but Henri held his ground and used a heavy backpack he was carrying to swing towards the assailant.
Henry’s father said his son “told me that the Syrian was incoherent, saying lots of strange things in different languages, calling on his father, his mother, all the gods”.
The suspect’s profile has fueled fresh criticism from far-right and conservative politicians over France’s migration policies. But authorities noted that the suspect had entered France legally, as he had permanent resident status in Sweden. Both Sweden and France are members of the EU and Europe’s borderless travel zone.
He applied for asylum in France last year and was refused a few days before the attack, on the grounds that he had already obtained asylum in Sweden in 2013, said the French interior minister .