Four US students are sprayed with acid in attack at France train station

A ‘mentally unstable’ woman has been taken into custody, and the attack in Marseille is not believed to be terrorism

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 8:19am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 8:19am

Authorities say a 41-year-old woman was arrested after spraying acid on four American students Sunday morning at a train station in Marseille, a city in southern France.

The victims, four women in their 20s, were taken to hospital. Two had facial injuries, one of whom possibly suffered an eye injury, a spokeswoman for the Marseille prosecutor’s office told Associated Press. The other two were in shock.

Investigators are not considering the attack a terrorist act, though that could not be ruled out in the early stages of the investigation. The spokeswoman said the suspect did not make extremist threats.

The attack happened at about 11am at the Saint Charles train station. Fourteen firefighters in four rescue vehicles responded to the train station, according to media reports. Authorities are not releasing the identities of the victims and the suspect. who is in custody.

La Provence, a newspaper in Marseille, reported that police described the woman as mentally unstable and that she remained at the scene to show officers pictures of herself with burns.

Boston College, a private Jesuit university in Massachusetts, said in a statement Sunday that the four students were all juniors studying abroad, three of them at the college’s Paris programme.

“It appears that the students are fine, considering the circumstances, though they may require additional treatment for burns,” Nick Gozik, who directs Boston College’s Office of International Programs. “We have been in contact with the students and their parents and remain in touch with French officials and the US embassy regarding the incident.”

Alex Daniels, a spokesman for the US embassy in Paris, told Associated Press that the embassy is not commenting on the incident, citing privacy reasons. He said the US consulate in Marseille is in contact with investigators.

The port city of Marseille, about 800km southeast of Paris, has seen at least two other attacks in recent months.

In August, a man driving a van crashed into two bus stops in the Vieux-Port area, a popular tourist spot. One person was killed and at least another was injured, French media reported. Officials did not believe it was a terrorist act.

In January, authorities said a 15-year-old Turkish Kurd attacked a Jewish teacher with a machete and claimed he did so on behalf of Islamic State. The teen struck the teacher’s shoulder and fled before police came.

One attack, which was supposed to happen in April leading up to the French presidential election, was thwarted. Authorities said two French nationals were arrested in Marseille before they were able to carry out what Paris prosecutor Francois Molins called an “imminent, violent action.”

In Britain, authorities said acid attacks have tripled in the past three years, stoking fears that anyone in a public area could be a victim. The alarming rise comes amid a clampdown on weapons and fears of a frightening new crime fad involving teenage motorbike thieves using corrosive substances, in part because they are relatively easy to obtain.

Nearly 460 acid attacks were reported in London in 2016, according to London police. Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner Craig Mackey said investigators believe the spike reflects an emerging trend among criminal gangs.

“We are seeing some links – although it has to be treated with caution because it’s a small data set – of a growing feature between named suspects in acid attacks who also feature in our gang matrix,” Mackey said.

Additional reporting by Associated Press