Saturday, January 19, 2019 | ePaper

France hunts gunman after three killed at Strasbourg Christmas market

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The government raised the security alert level for terrorism to its highest, reinforcing border controls and those around all Christmas markets across France.

AFP  :
Hundreds of police hunted Wednesday for a gunman who shot dead three people and wounded 13, eight seriously, at a famed Christmas market in Strasbourg, on the French border with Germany.
The attack took place Tuesday around 8 pm (1900 GMT) in the heart of the medieval city as the market was closing, sending crowds fleeing for safety.
Much of the centre and the European parliament were on lock down through part of the night as hundreds of police and soldiers searched for the gunman who was reportedly armed with an automatic rifle and a knife.
"The attacker, who was on the S list (of extremists watched by police), is actively being hunted by security forces," local officials said in a statement.
"350 policemen and gendarmes are still deployed on the ground," backed up by helicopters, elite units and soldiers deployed as part of a long-term nationwide anti-terrorism operation, the statement said.
The government raised the security alert level for terrorism to its highest, reinforcing border controls and those around all Christmas markets across France.
However, a terrorist motive "has not yet been established," deputy Interior minister Laurent Nunez told France Inter radio.
The gunman, who was being monitored for religious extremism, is "known for a number of criminal offences (...) but has never been linked to terrorist offences," he said.
The gunman, who was being monitored for religious extremism, is "known for a number of criminal offences (...) but has never been linked to terrorist offences," he said.
Strasbourg mayor Roland Ries said most of the victims were men, including one Thai tourist. "Some were shot in the head," Ries told BFM television. No children were hurt.
Soldiers patrolling the area as part of regular anti-terror operations after a series of attacks since 2015 exchanged fire with the suspect and wounded him, police sources said.
A soldier was slightly injured by a ricochet from a shot fired by the gunman who managed to escape.
"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 and on the ground only a few metres (feet) from the city's giant Christmas tree.
President Emmanuel Macron expressed on Twitter the solidarity of the whole nation after holding a crisis meeting with cabinet officials in Paris.
Two separate security sources told AFP on condition of anonymity that the shooter was believed to be a 29-year-old from the city.
Police had wanted to arrest him Tuesday morning on unrelated criminal charges, but he was not at home.
He was being investigated over an attempted murder, one of the sources said.
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 23-year-old 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.
Three years after groups of jihadists gunned down and blew up 130 people in Paris on November 13, 2015, French counter-terror officials say their focus has shifted.
Rather than coordinated attacks, their main concern is attacks by "lone wolves"-self-radicalised individuals acting without links to terror groups such as Islamic State.
Most recently a 20-year-old Chechnya-born 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.

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