Local heroes recount French knife attack

AFP - [email protected]
Local heroes recount French knife attack
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) talks with Henri (R), the 24-year-old known as the 'backpack hero' who tried to stop the fleeing suspect, during a meeting with rescue forces on June 9, 2023.  Photo: DENIS BALIBOUSE / POOL / AFP

One young man used his rucksack as an improvised shield; two council workers ran towards the danger; French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday met the ordinary heroes who confronted the Annecy knife attacker.


A "pilgrim", two council workers and a maths teacher all played a part in chasing off the man who stabbed several toddlers in a playground in the Alpine town of Annecy.

Their intervention probably prevented more people being hurt in the attack.

Macron met all four after he had visited some of the seriously wounded children in hospital, a day after the shock stabbing in the Alpine town of Annecy.


"I did what any French person should do," 24-year-old Henri told Cnews TV channel on Friday morning.

A video circulating on social media and verified by AFP shows Henri using his rucksack to try and parry the knife attacks and then pursing the assailant as he sought to flee police.

"I didn't even think," Henri told BFM broadcaster. "My brain went onto automatic pilot.

"It was just unthinkable to let someone who appeared to be completely crazy attack defenceless beings like that."

"I could tell he wasn't in a normal state," Henri said of the attacker, described as a Syrian Christian in his early 30s who had been granted refugee status in Sweden.

"I sensed there was something very bad inside him and it was vital to stop him... You do what you can with what you have and what I had was my little rucksack."

Henri describes himself on his Instagram account as "a lover of cathedrals, touring France on foot for nine months".

The hashtag #MerciHenri, hailing the "rucksack hero", has become very popular on the social media accounts of far-right militants, who have seized on the suspect's origins.

'We got a spade'

The mayor of Annecy, a normally idyllic lakeside spot popular with tourists, praised the "courage" of two council workers who were in the park at the time of the attack.

"We were emptying some containers when we heard cries coming from the children's playground. People were calling for help," one of the workers told regional daily Dauphine Libere.

"We saw the bloke coming towards us. He was all in black, with this scarf on his head.

"We grabbed what we had to hand -- a spade -- and went towards him.

"My colleague tried to hit him or disarm him with the spade but he was pretty strong and fast.

"He tried to stab my mate. The blade went just a few centimetres from his face. We had to move back," he recalled.


The worker, whose name was not given, said his greatest regret was "not managing to get him with the spade".

Eulalie, 17, praised the reaction of her maths teacher, who was in the park with the class on a mini field trip.

"He was great because he just went for it," the schoolgirl told AFP.

"He and another man with a bag stood in the way," she explained. That had distracted the attacker and potentially saved several children.

Her own first reaction, she said, had been to call the emergency services.

"You don't run away. You try to be efficient. That's how my brain works. It's an individual thing."


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