PARIS (AFP) – A 17-year-old pupil was arrested with a cache of weapons after a shooting in a high school in southern France on Thursday that left eight people injured including the head teacher.
Here is what we know about the shooting, which comes with France on high alert ahead of a presidential election and after a string of terror attacks:
– Who was the attacker? –
The suspect is a 17-year-old pupil at the Alexis de Tocqueville high school in the southern town of Grasse.
He was not previously known to police and appears to have acted alone, despite initial reports of a second attacker on the loose.
He was armed with a rifle, two handguns and two grenades.
The head of the regional government, Christian Estrosi, said that early indications pointed to someone with “psychological problems”.
– Was this a terror attack? –
Apparently not. Estrosi said they are “not at all” treating it as a terror attack at this stage.
France is still on high alert after a string of attacks by jihadists since January 2015 that has claimed around 230 lives.
Security was bolstered around schools for the new school year in September and more than 3,000 reservists were called up.
– Who was hurt? –
The head teacher and two others suffered gunshot wounds. Another five people were injured during a stampede following the shooting, according to a statement from the interior ministry.
Estrosi said the head teacher’s injuries are not life threatening.
There was panic at the school as some pupils escaped to a local supermarket and rumours spread quickly of an attack.
– What was the response? –
Schools in the town were immediately placed on lockdown and a smartphone application was triggered to warn people to stay away.
Terrified parents were also warned not to approach the school as elite special forces moved in to secure the area.
Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve broke off a visit to northern France and set off towards the scene in a helicopter.
Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem also said she was heading immediately to the school.
– Where did it take place? –
The Alexis de Tocqueville school has a good reputation and specialises in scientific courses.
The town of Grasse, just 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the French Riviera resort of Nice, is a quiet hillside town with a population of some 50,000 is famous for its perfume industry.
Heavily-armed student opens fire in French high school
Thu Mar 16, 2017 | 10:53am EDT
A teenage student opened fire on Thursday at a high school in southeastern France injuring three people, including the headmaster, in an attack carried out after he had watched American-style mass shooting videos, the interior ministry said.
The incident, which does not appear to be linked to terrorism, comes with France on high alert after more than 230 people were killed in the past two years by attackers allied to the militant group Islamic State.
With a presidential election less than six weeks away, the attack by the 17-year-old armed with a hunting rifle seemed likely to further stimulate debate on security and fears of terrorism which are among big campaign issues.
Separately, in Paris, a female employee of the International Monetary Fund was injured in the face and arms when a letter bomb posted to the world lender’s Paris office blew up as she opened it, police said.
Interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said three people had been injured, and five other people were in shock after the teenager opened fire with the rifle in a high school in the town of Grasse.
The youth, who was also carrying two handguns and two grenades, was arrested at the school. Checks were underway to establish whether there was a second assailant.
“The first investigations suggest he had consulted American-style mass killings’ videos,” the spokesman said.
France has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. French citizens are banned from owning automatic weapons, while many other guns require government authorization and a medical exam, along with a permit from a hunting or sport shooting federation.
A police source said the youth arrested did not seem to be known to police.
Local emergency services used Twitter to advise residents of the town of about 50,000 inhabitants to stay at home. The government launched a mobile telephone application warning of a “terrorist” attack, although this is now automatic for any such incident.
Witnesses interviewed by local television described a scene of panic as the gunman entered the canteen with students rushing to hide under tables or sprinting for the exit.
“It was total panic,” Achraf, a student, said on BFM TV. “The gunshots were at 4 to 5 meters from where we were. We thought the gunman was coming towards us. We heard him shouting.
“I just know the gunman by sight. He was gentle and low-key key, not a nasty guy.”
(Reporting by Sophie Louet, Marine Pennetier, John Irish, Sudip Kar-Gupta and Brain Love, Geert De Clercq; writing by John Irish; Editing by Adrian Croft and Richard Balmforth)
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