Politics

Hunt for gunman after Strasbourg market attack kills three

STRASBOURG, France, Hundreds of security forces were Wednesday deployed in the hunt for a lone gunman who killed at least three people and wounded a dozen others at the famed Christmas market in Strasbourg, with the French government raising the security alert level and reinforcing border controls.

Some 350 people, including police, troops and helicopters were on the heels

of the attacker who had sowed terror in the city, Interior Minister

Christophe Castaner said.

The killer opened fire at around 8pm (1900 GMT) on one of the city's

busiest streets, sending crowds of evening shoppers fleeing for safety.

Castaner said the gunman had killed three people and wounded 12.

Soldiers patrolling the area as part of regular antiterror operations

exchanged fire with the suspect and wounded him, but could not stop him

escaping, police sources said. A soldier was slightly injured by a ricohet

from a shot by the gunman.

Castaner also said France had raised its security alert level to emergency

attack with the implementation of reinforced border controls and tightened

controls on all Christmas markets in France to avoid the risk of a copycat

attack.

The gunman has been identified and was on a watchlist of suspected

extremists, a statement from local security services said.

France's security forces, already on high alert after a series of terror

attacks since 2015, are particularly stretched at the moment due to anti

government protests that have swept the country.

I heard shooting and then there was pandemonium, one witness, who gave

his name as Fatih, told AFP. People were running everywhere.

He said he had seen three people injured on the ground only a few metres

(feet) from the giant Christmas tree in the centre of the city.

Shortly after the shooting, lines of police vehicles and ambulances

streamed into the market area, under festive lights declaring the city the

capital of Christmas.

We heard several shots, three perhaps, and we saw people running, one

witness told AFP, asking not to be named.

One of them fell down, I don't know whether it was because she was tripped

up or if she was hit, the witness said.

President Emmanuel Macron expressed on Twitter the solidarity of the whole

nation after holding a crisis meeting with cabinet officials in Paris.

Known to police

Two separate security sources told AFP on condition of anonymity that the

shooter was believed to be a 29yearold from the city, whose name was given

as Cherif, and who was set to be arrested on Tuesday morning.

He was being investigated over an attempted murder, one of the sources

said.

Several areas neighbouring the Christmas market were sealed off on Tuesday

night and residents were being told to stay indoors.

Many people took refuge in local restaurants and bars which pulled down

their shutters.

We let everyone inside, down into the wine cellar. They're locked in

there, local restaurant owner Mouad, 33, told AFP.

A police source, again speaking on condition of anonymity, said security

forces had opened fire in an area of the city where the suspect was thought

to be hiding.

The source did not give the address and it was unclear if the shooter had

been located.

Specialist antiterror prosecutors have opened an investigation into the

incident in Strasbourg, which lies on the border with Germany.

Several residents of the city have been detained in recent years for trying

to reach jihadist groups in Syria, or have been arrested upon their return.

Shocked and saddened by the terrible attack in Strasbourg. My thoughts are

with all of those affected and with the French people, British Prime

Minister Theresa May wrote on Twitter.

Tourist attraction

The Strasbourgbased European Parliament was also on lockdown, with MEPs,

staff and journalists unable to leave the building.

In a parliament bar usually reserved for MEPs, EU commissioners, powerful

legislators and staffers huddled in small groups waiting for developments.

Our first thought was for colleagues who had already made it to the centre

of town, who are safe, Belgian MEP Kathleen Van Brempt told AFP. Now we

just wait.

The Christmas market in Strasbourg and the city's illuminations are an

annual attraction that draws hundreds of thousands of people.

Security has been stepped up in recent years after a series of attacks in

France by Islamist gunmen and the Strasbourg market was long considered a

possible target.

In 2016, a 23yearold Tunisian killed 12 and injured 48 others when he

ploughed a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin in an attack claimed by

the Islamic State group.

Special antiterror army units have been deployed in Strasbourg, and

soldiers and armed police are regularly seen patrolling among the 300 wooden

Christmas market chalets.

Three years after groups of jihadists gunned down and blew up 130 people in

Paris on November 13, 2015, French counterterror officials say their focus

has shifted.

Rather than coordinated attacks, their main concern is attacks by lone

wolves selfradicalised individuals acting without links to terror groups

such as Islamic State.

Most recently a 20yearold Chechnyaborn man went on a knife rampage in

central Paris last May, killing one man and injuring four other people on a

Saturday night.

A total of 246 people have been killed in terror attacks in France since

2015, according to an AFP toll.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)