In this image made from video, emergency services arrive on the scene of a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018 (AP Photo)

In this image made from video, emergency services arrive on the scene of a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018 (AP Photo)

France: Suspected gunman named, had long police record

Suspected gunman named, had long police record

Hundreds of police and soldiers hunted Wednesday for a suspected extremist who sprayed gunfire near one of Europe’s most famous Christmas markets, killing two, leaving a third person brain dead and wounding at least 12 in the eastern city of Strasbourg and putting the whole country on edge anew.

Police union officials identified the suspected assailant as Cherif Chekatt, a 29-year-old with a thick police record for crimes including armed robbery. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss details of the large and ongoing investigation.

READ MORE: France shooting – 2 dead, dozen wounded in Strasbourg

Senior Interior Ministry official Laurent Nunez said the man had been radicalized in prison and had been monitored by French intelligence services since his release from jail in late 2015, because of his suspected religious extremism.

Nunez, secretary of state for the Interior Ministry, said on France-Inter radio that police sought to arrest the man on Tuesday morning, hours before the shooting, in relation to an attempted murder. He was not at home but five other people were detained, authorities said.

The government raised the security alert level and sent police reinforcements to Strasbourg, where more than 350 security forces were involved in the massive manhunt. Police officials said he was wounded in a gunfight with soldiers after the Tuesday night attack but escaped, and a top official said he might have fled to neighbouring Germany.

A terrorism investigation was opened, but the motive of the attack is unclear. Nunez said eight of the injured are in serious condition, and the city mayor said some had head wounds.

Witnesses described shots and screams after the gunman opened fire around the Christmas market Tuesday evening in a city that’s home to the European Parliament and considers itself a capital of Europe — and promotes itself as the “capital of Christmas.” For several hours swaths of the city were under lockdown.

The suspected attacker also had a criminal record in Germany. He was convicted of robbery in Germany in 2016 and sentenced to two years and three months in prison for breaking into a dental practice and a pharmacy in two German towns.

RELATED: France bracing for more protests despite retreat on taxes

The 2016 verdict from a district court in the southern German city of Singen, obtained by The Associated Press, also said he was sentenced to prison in France in 2008 and in Basel, Switzerland in 2013 for various robberies. News agency dpa reported that he was deported to France in 2017.

According to that verdict, the suspected attacker grew up with six siblings in Strasbourg, worked for local authorities after leaving school and had been unemployed since 2011. He said that he had been travelling a lot and had already spent four years of his life in prison. The German robberies took place in Mainz, near Frankfurt, in 2012 and in Engen, near the Swiss border, in 2016.

The attack is a new blow to France, which saw a wave of Islamic extremist killings in 2015 and 2016. It came amid a month of protests against President Emmanuel Macron that have blocked roads around the country, led to rioting in the capital and put heavy strain on police.

While authorities urged people in the area to stay inside after Tuesday’s attack, Strasbourg Mayor Roland Ries told BFM television Wednesday that “life must go on” so that the city doesn’t cede to a “terrorist who is trying to disrupt our way of life.”

The assailant got inside a security zone around the venue and opened fire from there, Mayor Roland Ries said on BFM television.

Police were out in force in Strasbourg, a city about 500 kilometres east of Paris on France’s border with Germany, on Wednesday morning. The Christmas market, a holiday tradition there, was closed. The market was the target of an al-Qaida-linked plot at the turn of the millennium.

Many of Europe’s deadliest terror attacks in recent years have taken place in France. In response to Tuesday’s shooting, the government decided to take the country’s attack risk up a level on the official threat index and to send security reinforcements to Strasbourg, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said in Strasbourg.

Some 350 officers and two helicopters were searching for the assailant after Tuesday’s drama, which involved shooting in multiple neighbourhoods of Strasbourg, authorities said. The assailant confronted law enforcement officers twice, exchanging fire, while he “sowed terror,” Castaner said.

The shooter was shot and wounded by soldiers guarding the Christmas market, according to Stephane Morisse of police union FGP Police.

“I heard two or three shots at around 7:55 p.m., then I heard screams. I got close to the window. I saw people running. After that I closed the shutters. Then I heard more shots, closer this time,” said Yoann Bazard, 27, who lives in central Strasbourg.

“I thought maybe it’s firecrackers,” he said, speaking by phone. “And then, as it got close, it was really shocking. There were a lot of screams. … There were police or soldiers shouting ‘Get inside!’ and ‘Put your hands on your head.’”

Another witness, Peter Fritz, told the BBC one of the three people killed was a Thai tourist who was shot in the head and didn’t respond to lengthy attempts to revive him.

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hills using a homemade trip camera. Vancouver Island is home to approximately 800 cougars, which makes up about a quarter of the total population in B.C. (Gary Schroyen photo)
Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hill using a homemade trip camera. Schroyen presents Animal Signs: The Essence of Animal Communication on Nov. 30. (Gary Schroyen photo)
Declining Vancouver Island cougar populations linked to wolves

Large carnivore specialist says human development still plays biggest role on cougar numbers

The West Shore Community Response Network (CRN) is urging awareness around National Fraud Prevention Month, so residents can especially help protect older and vulnerable adults against fraud. (Photo by Joshua Hoehne/Upsplash)
March dialed in as National Fraud Prevention Month

West Shore Community Response Network urges citizens to protect seniors against phone, email scams

Students from SD62 stepped up to help members in the community with the annual 10,000 Tonight food drive. This year’s organizers had to adapt during the campaign as COIVD-19 public health orders changed. (Black Press Media file photo)
West Shore students step up to make sure community members don’t go without

Students of SD62 are this year’s recipient of the Youth Volunteer Award

A cat died in this house fire in Sidney afternoon. The fire started on the house’s deck and spread from that point. Sidney Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brett Mikkelsen said the permanent presence of crews at the Community Safety Building prevented worse damage. (Photo courtesy of Clayton Firth)
Sidney house fire kills cat, causes extensive damage

Official says fire started on deck and damage to the house could have been worse

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Search underway for missing woman after boat catches fire in Ladysmith harbour

A large boat caught fire on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27

Lone orca from a pod that made its way north from Georgia Strait and into Discovery Passage on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Photo by Ella Smiley/<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Comoxvalleywildlifesightings/?ref=page_internal" target="_blank">Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings </a>
Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod

Group gives wildlife photographers a classic opportunity to view them off Campbell River shoreline

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Most Read