Terrifying CCTV footage shows a man leaping over a railing and grabbing a young girl as her mum and hero diners tackle him.
In the video, the four-year-old girl is sitting with two women on patio at a pizza restaurant when the stranger rushes towards her and grabs her by the neck.
As one of the women tries to pull the girl to safety, the 24-year-old man is quickly grabbed by a hero diner – who turns out to be a martial arts expert – and put in a headlock while he still has his hands on the girl.
He is wrestled to the floor by the diner, smashed in the face by one of the women and held until security officers arrive and detain him within moments. It was initially thought to have been an attempted abduction.
The man, who was left bloodied with facial injuries, had no connection to the girl or her family, according to police in the Johannesburg suburb of Florida, South Africa.
A witness told the Roodeport Record: “He was walking along the street banging on cars. Then he just started running up to the girl.
“It didn’t look like he was trying to take her, he was really trying to hurt her.
“His eyes were dead.”
In a Facebook post, private investigator Wendy Pascoe claimed the man was involved in an assault before grabbing the girl.
The dramatic incident occurred at about 5pm on Thursday, and the footage has gone viral on social media.
One clip on Twitter has been viewed more than seven million times.
Another clip on social media shows the blooded man shouting at witnesses as he lay handcuffed and shoeless on the floor outside the restaurant.
He screams and appears to talk to himself.
The man appeared in court on Friday charged with assault.
The hero diner has since been named by South African media as martial artist and businessman Dishal Sooku.
He was praised on social media, with one person tweeting: “A true hero, at the right place at the right time. So happy you were there at that time to save the little girl.”
Lt Kay Makhubela, a police spokesperson, told TimesLive: “It is alleged that on Thursday about 5pm the complainant was at the pizza shop in Florida with her four-year-old child when an unknown male came and grabbed the child by her neck as if he wanted to take her.
“The mother and the child screamed and, with the help of the shop owner and the community, the suspect was apprehended.”