Eight injured as pupil opens fire at French school: Ministry

Three people suffered gunshot wounds and another five were hurt during a shooting at a school in the south of France on Thursday, a spokesman from the interior ministry said.

Published: 16th March 2017 06:24 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th March 2017 10:19 PM   |  A+A-

In this image from TV, Police cordon off the area as people gather to view the nearby high school, following a shooting in Grasse, southern France, on March 16. (Photo | AP)


PARIS: French police arrested a heavily armed 17-year-old on Thursday after he opened fire at a school in southern France, rattling nerves in a country on edge after several jihadist attacks, authorities said.

The teen was carrying a rifle, two handguns and two grenades in the attack at the Alexis de Tocqueville high school in the sleepy hillside city of Grasse, police told AFP.

An interior ministry spokesman said eight people, including the principal, were injured. Some were hurt in a stampede triggered by the attack.

The suspect, who has not been named publicly, had shared pictures and videos on social media of infamous US school shootings, including the 1999 Columbine massacre.

The head of the regional government, Christian Estrosi, told AFP that the shooting was "not at all" being seen as a terror attack and that the shooter appeared to have "psychological problems".

The head teacher was admitted to the local hospital with gunshot wounds to the arm and three pupils were treated for buckshot injuries, the hospital's director Frederic Limouzy told AFP.

Investigators initially said they were looking for an accomplice but a police source later said the shooter, who was not previously known to the authorities, appeared to have acted alone. 

Fifteen-year-old Mokhtaria told AFP she was having a cigarette in the school garage when she heard shots ring out. 

"We saw people coming down shouting: 'There's a nutter firing at people'. We ran for it," she said.

France is still in a state of emergency after a series of terror attacks including the November 2015 massacre in Paris and a truck attack in Nice, just 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Grasse, in July last year.

The shooting comes just over a month before the first round of France's two-stage presidential election, in which security is one of the main issues on voters' minds.

- IMF letter bomb -

All schools in Grasse were locked down after the late-morning shooting, which sent panicked pupils scurrying for cover. 

A police cordon was thrown up around the building in the town known as France's perfume capital due to several scent factories.

The French government had already bolstered security outside after following the series of jihadist attacks since January 2015 that have claimed hundreds of lives.

More than 3,000 reservists were called up to help keep watch outside the country's 64,000 primary and secondary schools for the opening of the school year in September.

Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve cut short a trip to the northern Somme area because of the Grasse shooting, as well as a letter bomb blast at the offices of the International Monetary Fund in Paris on Thursday.

A secretary at the agency suffered burns to her hands and face after opening a parcel containing explosive material believed to be a firework.

Employees were evacuated from the building near the Arc de Triomphe monument in the heart of the capital "as a precaution", a police source said.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde condemned it as a "cowardly act of violence".

US-style school shootings are almost unheard-of in France, a country with low levels of gun violence.

The last major attack at a school was in 2012, when an Islamic extremist from Toulouse, Mohamed Merah, shot dead three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in the city before being killed by police.

In March 1984, a 15-year-old student shot and killed a teacher in the southwestern town of Castres before turning the gun on himself.


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