PARIS: French police detained a man who wounded seven people in a knife attack in central Paris late on Sunday, police and judicial sources said yesterday, adding there was no initial indication the incident was linked to terrorism.
The attacker, who one police source said was from Afghanistan, stabbed tourists and passers-by along the Bassin de la Villette, a popular outdoor canal area in the northeast of Paris where many people gather on warm evenings.
Among those stabbed were two British tourists, a judicial source said. They and two others remain in hospital with severe wounds, although they are not thought to be life-threatening.
Chaos erupted on the banks of the Bassin de la Villette, an area popular with locals and visitors who frequent the cafes, cinemas and other cultural venues along its banks, just after 11.00pm (2100 GMT).
Eyewitness Youssef Najah, 28, said he was walking beside the canal when he saw a man running and holding a knife about 25-30cm long.
“There were around 20 people chasing him. They started throwing petanque balls at him,” Najah said, referring to the sport popular in France also known as boules.
“Around four or five balls hit him in the head, but they weren’t able to stop him,” he added.
According to the same witness, the attacker then dived into an alleyway, where the man “tried to hide behind two British tourists. We said to them: ‘Watch out, he has a knife’. But they didn’t react”.
The pair were then attacked, he said.
A security guard at one of two cinemas on either side of the water said he had seen the attacker running away from two men who were trying to stop him.
“He had an iron bar in his hand which he threw at the men chasing him, then he took out a knife,” he said.
Thierry, a witness quoted on BFM TV, said a group of people assailed the attacker.
“Someone with a wooden stick smashed him across the knees and he fell to the ground,” he said. “Loads of people arrived, some were saying ‘kill him’ but one guy who was pinning him down said ‘no, the last thing we must do is kill him.’”
Police and ambulance crews arrived on the scene shortly afterwards, witnesses said, and the man was taken into custody.
While the motives for the attack remain unclear, a judicial source said it did not appear to be akin to other attacks carried out by Muslim militants in Paris in recent years.
“Police didn’t find any initial indication the attack was linked to terrorism,” the source said. “But the anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office is following how the investigation proceeds closely.”
The UK foreign office said it was aware of reports of the attack and was “urgently investigating this incident” in cooperation with French authorities, British media reported.
A police investigation has been launched for attempted murder, according to a judicial source.
France has been on high alert following a string of jihadist attacks in recent years, often by people who have become radicalised or claim to have acted in the name of the IS group.
More than 240 people have been killed by Islamist extremists since a massacre at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris in January 2015. — AFP