School shooting, letter bomb at IMF put France on alert
PARIS — A heavily armed student opened fire and wounded eight people Thursday at a high school in the southern French city of Grasse, officials said.
The student, whose identity was not released, was subsequently arrested, a spokesman for France’s National Police confirmed to The Washington Post.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, speaking on French television, said the suspect is a 17-year-old student at the Lycée Alexis de Tocqueville in Grasse who was in possession of a rifle, two handguns and two grenades when arrested.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, the Alpes-Maritimes Prefecture, which includes Grasse, said the student, who “attacked for reasons that remain to be determined,” wounded eight people in total, including the school’s principal and three of his colleagues.
Four suffered gunshot wounds, while four others were slightly injured in the clamor to escape the school building, the statement said. As of Thursday afternoon, all the wounded were hospitalized, and there were no casualties.
Grasse is roughly 20 miles inland from the French Riviera.
Another student at Lycée Tocqueville, identified only as Benjamin, 16, told the Nice-Matin newspaper that the shooting occurred Thursday during the school’s lunch hour, just before 1 p.m.
“Around 12:40, I was sitting down, finishing eating,” he told the paper. “I heard this loud bang and then two more. I turned around, and I saw someone in the courtyard with a shotgun, shooting. He was firing on the windows of the classrooms overlooking the courtyard. When I saw that, I ran away.”
Interviewed on France’s BFM Television, Andréas, another student at the school, described a scene of “total panic” that began with four loud shots.
“We started running,” he said. “We would have thought we were in a film. In the hall, there were traces of blood.”
The suspect was of “European” origin, a spokesman for the National Police told The Post.
There was no immediate word of any link to Islamist terrorism. Christian Estrosi, president of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur administrative region, which includes Grasse, said Thursday’s shooting was “absolutely not” a terrorist attack.
France, set for a highly contentious presidential election next month, has remained under a constant “state of emergency” after terrorist attacks claimed by the Islamic State group that killed 130 people in Paris in November 2015.
One of the presidential candidates, Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front, has run on a campaign that many have called xenophobic and Islamophobic. Le Pen has been quick to decry perceived security failures in the aftermath of every recent attack perpetrated by Islamic State operatives or sympathizers.
But she was silent Thursday afternoon, when no such connection could be established to a terrorist of Muslim background.
By contrast, rival Emmanuel Macron, the increasingly popular centrist candidate, tweeted his “thoughts for the injured and respect for the efficiency of the authorities, as well as the calm of the teaching staff” at the school.
Also Thursday, a letter bomb exploded in the Paris offices of the International Monetary Fund. The employee who opened the letter was wounded in the hand and face, police said.
Christine Lagarde, the French director of the Washington-based IMF, condemned what she called a “cowardly act of violence against” her staff.
François Hollande, France’s Socialist president, has been frequently criticized for the country’s perpetual “state of emergency” by both the right and the left. Conservatives often insist that the precautions have failed to prevent attacks, such as the July assault on the Riviera city of Nice, while liberals often say the state of emergency has led to many violations of civil liberties, especially for French Muslims.
On Thursday afternoon, Hollande — whose historic unpopularity precluded him from standing for reelection this year — defended the state of emergency, insisting it should be extended through July 15.
“It will be up to my successor to decide what he will do next,” Hollande said. “But for now, the state of emergency is adapted to a certain number of risks.”