Police hunt through eastern France for
Strasbourg Christmas market attacker
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[December 12, 2018]
By Gilbert Reilhac and Vincent Kessler
STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - Security
forces searched through eastern France on Wednesday for a man suspected
of killing three people in an attack on a Christmas market in Strasbourg
and who was known to have been religiously radicalized while in jail.
With the gunman on the run, France raised its security threat to the
highest alert level, strengthening controls on its border with Germany
as elite commandos backed by helicopters hunted for the suspect.
French and German agents checked vehicles and trams crossing the Europa
Bridge on the Rhine river, along which the Franco-German frontier runs,
police said, backing up traffic in both directions. Hundreds of French
troops and police were taking part in the manhunt.
Police identified the suspect as Strasbourg-born Cherif Chekatt, 29, who
is on an intelligence services watch list as a potential security risk.
"The hunt continues," Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said on
France Inter radio. Asked whether the suspect might have left France, he
said: "That cannot be ruled out."
The gunman struck at about 1900 GMT on Tuesday, just as the picturesque
Christmas market in the historic city was shutting down, He shot dead
three people and wounded at least 12 others.
He engaged in two brief gunfights with security forces as he evaded a
police dragnet and was thought to have been wounded in the exchanges,
The Paris prosecutor's anti-terrorism unit has taken up the
investigation, suggesting that the authorities are treating the shooting
as a possible terrorist attack.
No one has yet claimed responsibility, but the U.S.-based Site
intelligence group, which monitors jihadist websites, said Islamic State
supporters were celebrating.
Nunez said the suspect Chekatt had spent time in prison in France and
"It was during these spells in jail that we detected a radicalization in
his religious practices. But we there were never signs he was preparing
an attack," the deputy minister said.
A spokeswoman for Germany's BKA criminal police said Chekatt was
deported to France in 2017 and was known to French authorities as a
The attack took place at a testing time for President Emmanuel Macron,
who is struggling to quell a month-long public revolt over high living
costs that has spurred the worst public unrest in central Paris since
the 1968 student riots.
The revelation that Chekatt was on a security watchlist will raise
questions over possible intelligence failures, though some 26,000
individuals suspected of posing a security risk to France are on the "S
Of these, about 10,000 are believed to have been radicalized, sometimes
in fundamentalist Salafist Muslim mosques, in jail or abroad.
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French soldiers patrol past the traditional Christmas market in
Nice, France, December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
Police had raided the suspect's home early on Tuesday in connection
with a homicide investigation. Five people were detained and under
interrogation as part of that investigation.
More than 600 security forces personell were involved in Wednesday's
manhunt in France, as well as border agents in Germany.
At the Europa Bridge, the main border crossing in the region used by
commuters traveling in both directions, armed police inspected
vehicles. Police were also checking pedestrians and trains arriving
in Germany from Strasbourg.
"We cannot predict how long these measures will stay in place," a
spokeswoman for the German border police Bundespolizei said. "We
don't know where the attacker is and we want to prevent him from
French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told Public Senat
television there was no need for the government to declare a state
of emergency as new legislation gave police adequate powers to
handle the situation.
Secular France has for years grappled with how to respond to both
homegrown jihadists and foreign militants following attacks in
Paris, Nice, Marseille and beyond.
In 2016, a truck plowed into a Bastille Day crowd in Nice, killing
more than 80 people. In November 2015, coordinated Islamist militant
attacks on the Bataclan concert hall and other sites in Paris
claimed about 130 lives.
There have also been attacks in Paris on a policeman on the
Champs-Elysees avenue, the offices of satirical weekly publication
Charlie Hebdo and a kosher store.
A Christmas market in Berlin was the target of an attack on Dec. 19,
2016, in which 12 people were killed and 56 wounded when man drove a
truck into a crowd.
(Reporting by Vincent Kessler, Geert De Clercq, Sophie Louet, Sudip
Kar-Gupta, Emmanuel Jarry and Richard Lough in Paris, Vincent
Kessler and Gilbert Reilhac in Strasbourg, Sabine Siebold in Berlin;
Writing by Geert De Clercq and Richard Lough; Editing by Angus
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