A teenage student opened fire on Thursday at a high school in southeastern France, wounding up to four people, in an attack carried out after he had watched US mass shooting videos such as that in Columbine, officials said.
The incident in Grasse, which does not appear to be linked to militancy, comes with France on high alert after more than 230 people were killed in the past two years by attackers allied to Islamic State.
“It was total panic,” Achraf, a student in the school, said on BFM TV. “The gunshots were at 4 to 5 metres from where we were. We thought the gunman was coming towards us. We heard him shouting.”
France’s Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem visiting the scene of the attack, in Grasse, said the attack, appeared to be “a crazy act by a fragile young man fascinated by firearms”.
With a presidential election less than six weeks away, the attack by a 17-year-old armed with a hunting rifle looked likely to further stoke the debate on security.
Separately, in Paris, an employee of the International Monetary Fund was injured in the face and arms when a letter bomb posted to the world lender’s local office blew up as she opened it, police said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said three people had been injured when the teenager opened fire. The local police department said four had been lightly injured.
The youth, who was also carrying two handguns and two grenades, was arrested at the school. Checks were under way to establish whether there was a second assailant.
“The first investigations suggest he had consulted videos of mass killings in America,” the ministry 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 authorisation 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. His motives were not clear.
“This is reminiscent of the Columbine tragedy in the US,” Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon told reporters.
In that incident, in 1999, two students fatally shot a teacher and 12 classmates before killing themselves.
Images of what appeared to the Grasse attacker’s Facebook and YouTube pages showed a fascination with Columbine and violent images as well as how to make your own weapons.
Local emergency services used Twitter to advise residents of the town of about 50,000 inhabitants to stay at home after the shooting began around 12:30pm (1130 GMT).
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.
“I just know the gunman by sight. He was gentle and low-key key, not a nasty guy,” studentAchraf added. BFM TV did not give his family name.
Christian Estrosi, the president of the local region, said the headmaster had been told that thestudent was on the premises and had attempted to calm him down, but had failed and was shot in the arm.
“He’s a normal boy. There were no signs. He is a bit reserved and doesn’t make waves,” Jean-Rene Laget, who knows the student‘s father personally, told Reuters. “His father never said he had problems with him.”