by Agencies for TimesOfIsrael.com, December 12, 2108 –
French police officers stand guard near the scene of a shooting in Strasbourg, eastern France, December 11, 2018. (Abdesslam MIRDASS/AFP)
The gunman who carried out a mass shooting in Strasbourg cried the Islamic phrase “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Greatest”) as he opened fire, France’s anti-terror prosecutor Remy Heitz told a news conference Wednesday, citing witnesses.
Four people connected to the main suspect were detained overnight in the eastern French city, he added.
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.
Hundreds of police and soldiers hunted for the extremist suspect that they believe sprayed gunfire near one of Europe’s most famous Christmas markets the night before, killing three and wounding at least 13 in the eastern city of Strasbourg and putting the whole country on edge anew.
Senior Interior Ministry official Laurent Nunez said Chekatt 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 Chekatt 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 neighboring Germany.
A terrorism investigation was opened. Nunez said eight of the injured are in serious condition, and the city mayor said some had head wounds.
— The European Post (@theEUpost) December 12, 2018
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 the country 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.