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The ‘backpack hero’ who confronted Annecy knifeman

June 9, 2023

The ‘backpack hero’ who confronted Annecy knifeman

Catholic pilgrim Henri, 24, says he took inspiration from France’s ‘magnificent’ cathedral heritage to risk his life to spare more victims

A 24-year-old Catholic pilgrim on a tour of France’s cathedrals has been hailed as a national hero after using his rucksack to take on a Syrian knifeman.

The frenzied stabbing in a playground in Annecy left four small children, including a three-year-old British girl, fighting for their lives, along with two adults.

On Friday, reports said that the British girl, whose first name is Ettie, was no longer in a critical condition. A 22-month Dutch boy was also reportedly no longer in a life-threatening condition. Two French cousins aged two and three were also said to be stable.

The bearded Frenchman known only as “Henri” – a philosophy graduate with a masters in management – believed it was “no accident” that he happened to be in the park when the horrifying attack took place on Thursday morning by Lake Annecy.

He said he took inspiration from France’s “magnificent” cathedral heritage to risk his life to spare more victims.

Footage of the attack in Le Pâquier playground shows the fearless Frenchman chasing the Syrian 31-year old, who has refugee status in Sweden, and swinging his rucksack at the armed assailant.

Social media users and politicians issued calls to bestow on him the Legion of Honour, France’s highest award, Henri was due to meet Emmanuel Macron on Friday afternoon as he visits victims in the Grenoble and Annecy.

In interviews on CNews and BFMTV, he said: “What I know is that I wasn’t there by chance on my path of cathedrals around France.

“I crossed the path of blood and something inside of me pushed me to act to defend the pure and the innocent – these children under attack. I don’t know [if this was divine intervention]. I just felt a great force inside me and a huge adrenaline rush. I found it totally intolerable that children be attacked in this way and I acted as I could.”

Recounting the scene, he said: “I saw the man from a distance and at first thought it was a mugging. Then very quickly understood that it was a veritable attack and that’s when I didn’t think, I rushed in. After that, it’s all very vague in my mind.

“I used what I had to scare him and make him understand he couldn’t act as he wished, which is why I chased him with my rucksack. There were several of us, other young people notably whom I salute. So he ran out of the kids’ playground and into the Pâquier park in Annecy.







“All this was very instinctive, almost animal-like. At one point he turned on me and tried to stab me. I managed to avoid these and tried to whack him with my bag, which was a total failure. Naturally, I was scared for my life at one point but above all, I was scared for the lives of others and didn’t want him to injure others.

“I pursued him until the police opened fire and he was overpowered by motorbike police officers.”

Once that happened, he said he instantly started praying for the children’s lives. Henri brushed aside suggestions he had become an overnight national hero.

“I receive lots of messages of gratitude, which touches me a lot.

“Many treat me like a national hero, which for me is a bit absurd because I just acted as all French should act. If everyone acted like I did, France would be a far safer country and we would have heroes on every street corner. All you need to do is hold your head high and see what is great and good, take inspiration from that and act accordingly.”

‘He was possessed by evil’

The assailant, Abdelmasih H, is a Syrian Christian, which is a group that has faced persecution. He shouted out “In the name of Jesus Christ” twice in English and wielded a four-inch blade during the bloody attack.

Asked about how a fellow Christian could justify such actions, Henri said: “I don’t know what he claims to believe in but what I know is that it is profoundly un-Christian to take against totally unarmed, weak innocent beings.

“The Christian civilisation on which our country was built is indeed based on a chivalrous message to defend the widow and the orphan. In truth, that’s the true message of Christianity. And I don’t understand how one can claim to be Christian, but attack children. He was possessed by something deeply evil.”

The graduate said he had received huge support and expressions of pride from his large Catholic family.

He has received plaudits from politicians of all creeds, including the hard-Right, some of whom, such as Marine Le Pen, made a link between the attack and a “problem in handling immigration”.

‘Focus on the essential’

But he said he had no political leanings. “My commitment is towards what is beautiful. I am part of the youth that has decided to focus on the essential. Through my testimony I call on the French to focus on that and hold their heads high on what is great and good and take inspiration from that,” he said.

Henri is on a nine-month tour of France’s cathedrals and he recounts his visits on social media to his 80,000 followers.

“My wish is to show to the widest number of people the beauty of our cathedrals in France with the aim of uniting us around these magnificent architectural monuments built by our ancestors who were steeped in grandeur and from whom we should take inspiration.

“Indeed, that is why I acted. I took heart from the greatness of these cathedrals I have been visiting now for more than two months.

A Catholic mass was due to be held at 6pm in Annecy cathedral in tribute to the victims.


Source:  The Telegraph

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