PARIS: A man believed to be an Afghan national was being held in custody Monday as the suspect in an attack with a knife and an iron bar in Paris that left seven people injured, including three foreign tourists, police said.
In the attack next to a canal in the northeast of the capital on Sunday evening, the suspect, believed to be in his thirties, was overpowered by bystanders who had tried to stop him by throwing petanque balls at him.
Unconscious when officers arrived on the scene, the alleged assailant was taken to hospital, police said. A source close to the investigation said the man, whose identity was currently being verified, was an Afghan born in 1987.
Two British tourists and an Egyptian visitor were among the seven injured, four of whom were said to be in critical condition.
Though the suspect had targeted foreigners, "nothing at this stage suggests a terrorist attack", a source close to the inquiry added.
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 11:00 pm (2100 GMT).
"I saw this guy with a knife who was trying to attack people," an eyewitness, Hamani Bouadjema, told AFP.
"My first reflex was to run after him, and my mates followed. We started throwing our petanque balls at him," Bouadjema said.
One of his friends picked up a plank of wood on the ground and "hit him on the hand in which he was holding the knife," the eyewitness continued.
Then the group "jumped on him and got him to the ground."
The eyewitness said the man "seemed to be on drugs. He seemed to be on something. He definitely didn't seem normal. He had a blank look... He didn't say anything. Even when we hit him, he didn't shout 'ouch'." Another eyewitness Youssef Najah, 28, said he was walking beside the canal when he saw a man running and holding a knife about 25-30 centimetres (10-11 inches) 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," he added.
According to the same witness, the man then dived into an alleyway, where he "tried to hide behind two British tourists. We said to them: 'Watch out, he has a knife". But they didn't react". The pair, said by police to be in their fifties, were then attacked, Najah said. A security guard at one of the two cinemas on either side of the water said he had seen the alleged 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," the guard told AFP.
An Algerian man identified as Smain told Le Parisien newspaper he was part of a group that apprehended the suspect.
"I managed to jump on him and throw him to the ground and get his weapon off him," he said, adding that the man had sustained "several blows from petanque balls, iron bars and sticks" and "looked drugged".
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.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb in a statement praised those who intervened to stop the attack for their "responsiveness and courage".
A police investigation has been launched for attempted murder, according to a judicial source.
It is the latest of several knife attacks France has seen in recent weeks.
On August 23, a man stabbed his mother and sister to death and seriously injured another person in a town near Paris before being shot dead by police.
The motive for the violence remained unclear despite a claim by the Islamic State group that it was an attack by one of its fighters responding to the terror organisation's propaganda.
Authorities said the 36-year-old had serious mental health problems and had been on a terror watch list since 2016.
That attack came days after an Afghan asylum-seeker was arrested in the southwestern town of Perigueux for a drunken rampage with a knife in which four people were wounded, one seriously.
Police said investigators had "very quickly" dismissed a terrorist motive after the August 13 incident.
And on June 17, two people were hurt in another southern town when a woman shouting "Allahu akbar" (God is greatest) attacked them in a supermarket with a boxcutter knife.
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.