Stunning first then, very quickly, horror. It is 9:30 a.m. this Thursday, June 8 at Le Pâquier, a vast landscaped promenade of seven and a half hectares, located on the shores of Lake Annecy. A man dressed in black, sweatshirt and Bermuda shorts, begins to run in short strides, a knife in his hand. Just behind him, a man follows him trying to stop his progress. Without being able to prevent him from spreading terror. Because the individual in black begins to stab several children in the middle of the terrified cries of those who accompany them.

The man was finally arrested by the police and help arrived on the scene. The first official information is given at the beginning of the afternoon by Élisabeth Borne during a short press briefing in front of the Annecy prefecture alongside Gérald Darmanin. “We are shocked by this heinous, unspeakable act”, indicates the Prime Minister, specifying that the individual “is not known to any intelligence service” and did not “identified psychiatric history”.

At his side, the prosecutor of Annecy, Line Bonnet-Mathis underlines “that no apparent terrorist motive” has not been retained so far. “As it stands, there are no elements that could lead us to believe that there is a terrorist motivation”, indicates the magistrate, specifying that the investigation was opened for attempted assassinations and entrusted to the judicial police. The magistrate adds that the attack left six injured: two adults and four children, all victims of stab wounds, “all in a state of absolute emergency”. The children are very young: 22 months for one, 2 years for two others and 3 years for the fourth. One child is of English nationality and another of Dutch nationality.

Line Bonnet-Mathis explains that one of the adults, first stabbed, was then “wounded by a weapon used by the police services” during the intervention. According to the prosecutor, a second parallel investigation was opened for “determine the circumstances in which the police used” of his weapons.

A homeless

Elisabeth Borne gives only few elements on the course of the author of the attack. It’s about “a priori [d’un] without a fixed address and who has a migratory route in Europe with an asylum request which has been granted to him, not by France. (…) He is a Syrian who has refugee status in Sweden,” just specifies the head of government.

According to the Ministry of the Interior, the perpetrator of the attack filed an asylum application with the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra) on November 28, 2022, which was rejected in June. because “it turns out that he already had refugee status in Sweden”the country where he had resided since 2013. As a refugee in a European Union country, Abdalmasih H. had the right to “moving around in France as in the whole Schengen area”, says Place Beauvau.

In reality, this is not quite the case since the law provides that a refugee who wants to travel for less than three months must present a residence permit and a travel permit for foreigners. For a longer stay, he must apply for a long-stay visa and then the transfer of his refugee status. But in this case, Abdalmasih H. applied for asylum upon his arrival in France. He therefore had a receipt valid as a residence permit until the rejection of his asylum application in early June. He then had one month to appeal and was therefore not deportable at the time of the events.

It remains to be seen what the man was doing in France, where he arrived in the fall of 2022, after having lived in Sweden for ten years. According to AFP, which interviewed a person presenting himself as his ex-wife, the departure is linked to the fact that he has not “failed to obtain Swedish citizenship”. “We met in Turkey, fell in love and came here (to Sweden). After two years we got married, but he couldn’t get Swedish citizenship, so he decided to leave the country. We separated because I didn’t want to leave Sweden.”, she confided on the phone. This departure took place “eight months ago”, according to the young woman. In a rare exchange since then with the suspect, who described himself as Christian to the French police as in his asylum application file, he explained to them that he lived “in a church” In France.

He introduces himself as a Christian from Syria

In total, more than 1 million Syrians have come to Europe to flee the civil war. “Sweden and Germany, where a large Syrian community already lives, are the two countries that have received the most,” explains Matthieu Tardis, co-director of Synergies migrations. In particular, Sweden largely granted asylum to Syrians, at least until the tightening of migration policy from 2015.

An element, which appeared on Thursday, will undoubtedly deserve to be dug in the days to come. The assailant, who was wearing a Christian cross when he was arrested, presented himself as a “Syrian Christian” during his application for asylum at Ofpra on November 28, 2022. According to Mgr Pascal Gollnisch, director general of the work of the Orient, while Syrian Muslims have massively settled in Turkey, Jordan or Iraq , “Christian refugees went more willingly to European countries, especially Sweden”.

The investigation will also have to determine if the man acted for religious reasons. A point on which it is necessary to remain, at this stage, of extreme caution. In a video broadcast on social networks, we certainly hear him declaim twice, during the attack, in English “in the name of Jesus Christ”. Which at this stage remains insufficient, in the eyes of the investigators, to prove the religious motivation of his act.

Moreover, it is not because an individual utters words with a religious connotation during an attack that the act is classified as terrorist. Even “when someone shouts ‘Allahu Akbar’ and then throws himself at passers-by at a bus stop with a knife does not necessarily qualify his action as terrorist”, explained in November 2021 during a hearing at the National Assembly Jean-François Ricard, the boss of the national anti-terrorism prosecution (Pnat).

An attack that was not qualified as terrorist

In France, it is this body which is responsible for saying whether or not such an attack has a terrorist character. To decide, the Pnat very quickly asks itself several concrete questions: is the author known to the French or foreign intelligence services? Does he belong to a terrorist or radical group? Did he claim his gesture, especially on social networks? It was the first answers to these questions that led the Pnat to estimate, at this stage, that the attack on Annecy was not terrorism.

But the situation may change over the next few days as the investigation progresses. The police will indeed sift through the life of the author of the attack, his associations, the content of any digital media (telephone, computer) in his possession. And we will then perhaps know more about the motivations of the man who, on this beautiful sunny morning, sowed terror in the face of the majestic setting of Lake Annecy.


A mass for the victims in Annecy

Emmanuel Macron condemned a “attack of absolute cowardice”.“The nation is in shock. Our thoughts are with (the victims) as well as their families and the emergency services mobilized. »

Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne, from Annecy, called for respect “the time of emotion” and wait for “the investigation can take place” For “specify the course and profile of this assailant”.

The president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Laurent Wauquiez, who also went thereasked above all to “just think about those kids” And “to the caregivers who are at their bedside”.

Mgr Yves Le Saux, Bishop of Annecy, expressed his “deep sadness” and felt that this drama commits to “working ever more to combat the violence that runs through our society”. He announced a mass this Friday at 6 p.m. in Annecy Cathedral, for the victims and their families, followed by a time of prayer.