Hunt for Strasbourg gunman who killed three

BBC – 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.

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.

A woman called Audrey told France’s BFM TV how she came face to face with the killer.

“He came out from the porch of a building armed with a pistol in his hand, his arm outstretched. He headed towards a gentleman walking in front of me and he immediately fired a bullet at his head,” she said.

The gunman then opened fire for a second time, and another man fell to ground.

Her friends began to run to safety, but Audrey was frozen to the spot. The gunman turned, and faced her – but then he too ran.

“Why didn’t he shoot at me?” she told the TV channel. “I don’t know. I think I was extremely lucky. As everyone was screaming he fled.”

At some point in the moments that followed, 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 Chérif 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.

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?

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.

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

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

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 Tuesday 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.

However, MEPs were determined to carry on the morning after the attack, with German MEP Jo Leinen posting a picture of singing and Christmas lights in the European Parliament.

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