Strasbourg shooting: France hunts gunman as alert level raised

Media captionPater Fritz describes hearing gunshots and helping a victim of the Strasbourg shooting

France has issued a maximum level of alert as police hunt a gunman who opened fire at a Christmas market in the eastern city of Strasbourg.

Three people were killed and 13 wounded, eight of them seriously.

The gunman, 29, known to authorities as having been radicalised in prison, escaped after reportedly being injured.

Some 350 officers are involved in the search for the gunman. The deputy interior minister has acknowledged he may no longer be in France.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the country had issued an “urgence attentat” (emergency attack) alert, expanding police powers and creating the highest degree of vigilance.

He added that border controls had been strengthened and security at all Christmas markets would be stepped up.

The mayor of Strasbourg, Roland Ries, has said the Christmas market will be closed on Wednesday and flags lowered to half-mast at the local town hall.

  • Strasbourg shooting: What we know so far

Protests have also been banned in the city – which is the seat of the European parliament – but not in the rest of France, Reuters news agency said. The country is in the midst of a wave of protests highlighting the economic frustration and political distrust of poorer working families.

What happened?

The attack unfolded at around 20:00 local time (19:00 GMT) on Tuesday close to Strasbourg’s famed Christmas market near one of the central squares, Place Kléber, which attracts thousands of visitors at this time of year.

There has been some confusion over the number killed in the attack. At one point, the figure was revised down to two by officials, but has since gone back to three.

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The new alert level heightens powers of the police

The gunman exchanged fire with officers who were patrolling the area as part of anti-terror measures.

It is thought he was injured. According to Mr Castaner, the man “fought twice with our security forces”.

How did he escape?

According to France’s BFM TV, he managed to reach a taxi which drove him away from the scene and dropped him in the vicinity of the police station in Neudorf, the area where he is understood to live which sits on the border between Germany and France.

It was the taxi driver who told police the man was wounded in his left leg.

Residents in Neudorf have been urged to stay indoors.

What do we know about the gunman?

A picture is beginning to emerge of the suspected attacker, although a motive is still not known.

He has not been officially named, but French media are referring to him as Cherif Chekatt.

According to police, he was born in Strasbourg and was already known to the security services as a possible terrorist threat. He was the subject of a “fiche S”, the same system under which Amedy Coulibaly – who attacked a supermarket in 2015 – was flagged.

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Armed police secure the area after the deadly shooting incident on Tuesday

He is understood to have served prison sentences in both France and Germany, while BFM TV described him as a “repeat offender” and “delinquent”.

However, while Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nuñez confirmed he had served several sentences, he said his crimes had never been terrorism-related.

But, Mr Nuñez added, it was during one period in prison that he was indentified as having become radicalised.

“The fact he was a ‘fiche S’ did not pre-judge his level of dangerousness,” Mr Nuñez told France Inter.

Stephane Morisse, from the FGP police union, said the man’s flat in the Neudorf district of the city had been searched by police in connection with a robbery on Tuesday morning, but he was not there.

Grenades were found during the search, according to BFM TV.

What about the victims?

Thai media have named Anupong Suebsamarn, 45, as one of the victims. He is believed to have been on holiday with his wife.

Not much else is known of the victims yet, apart from the fact no children were hurt, and one soldier was slightly injured by a ricocheting shot.

However, eyewitness Pater Fritz told the BBC he heard gunfire and found a person who had been shot, lying on a bridge. He said he tried to resuscitate him but the man died.

He said no ambulance services had been able to enter the area, adding: “After 45 minutes we stopped the resuscitation [attempt], because a doctor told us on the phone that it was senseless.”

Another eyewitness, who gave his name as Fatih, told AFP news agency that after the shots were fired there was “pandemonium” on the streets.

“People were running everywhere,” he said.

Local journalist Bruno Poussard wrote on Twitter that there had been a dozen shots fired on his street in the city centre – one or two to begin with, then in bursts.

Why is Strasbourg a target?

Strasbourg has been the target of jihadist plots in the past.

Not only does it have one of France’s oldest Christmas markets, but it is the official seat of the European Parliament. That parliament was in session at the time of Monday evening’s attack.

In 2000, the Christmas market was at the centre of a failed al-Qaeda plot. Ten Islamist militants were jailed four years later for their part in the planned New Year’s Eve attack.

Security has been tight there ever since the 2015 Paris attacks.

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