Gunman on security watchlist kills at least two people in deadly shooting at Strasbourg Christmas market

A gunman on a security watchlist killed at least two people and wounded at least 11 others near the picturesque Christmas market in the historic French city of Strasbourg before fleeing.

Amid fast-moving, confusing scenes it was not clear if the suspect, identified by police as Strasbourg-born Chekatt Cherif, 29, had been cornered by commandos or had slipped the dragnet.

Medics at the scene and police sources told journalists four people had been killed. But in a statement at 2215 GMT, the local prefecture was still saying two people had died.

The motive for the shooting was not immediately clear but, with France still on high alert after a wave of attacks commissioned or inspired by Islamic State militants since early 2015, an investigation was immediately opened by the counter-terrorism prosecutor.

The attack began at about 7pm as stallholders prepared to close down and the city’s restaurants filled up. Bystanders were swiftly ushered into nearby shops.

“There was confusion initially but they locked the front doors pretty soon after the gunshots,” said US citizen Elizabeth Osterwisch, who was sheltering on the top floor of the Galeries Lafayette department store. “They moved us several times, eventually settling on the place with the most protection.”

A source close to the operation said the suspect had been cornered and shots had been fired. But an hour or so later, a police source said he was still on the run.

The European Parliament, which is sitting in Strasbourg this week, was put into lockdown.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the gunman was known to security services, and the local prefecture said he had previously been identified as a danger to security.

People in the city’s Neudorf area and Etoile park were told to stay where they were as officers hunted the shooter on the ground and from the air.

The European Parliament, which is sitting in Strasbourg this week, was put into lockdown.

“There were gunshots and people running everywhere,” one local shopkeeper told BFM TV. “It lasted about 10 minutes.”

Witness Peter Fritz said he tried to help a Thai tourist lying on the ground with an apparent head wound after hearing “two distinct noises” which he initially took to be firecrackers.

He told the BBC: “We tried our best to resuscitate him, we applied CPR, we dragged him into a restaurant close by and had help with some medical people from Germany, but it took more than 45 minutes for an ambulance to appear.

“After 45 minutes we were told over the phone by an emergency doctor that any further efforts would be futile. He’s still here in this restaurant but we have abandoned all hope for him.

“His wife is also still here in a state of shock.”

Mr Fritz said the man appeared to be aged in his thirties.

The Christmas market was being held amid tight security this year, with unauthorised vehicles excluded from surrounding streets during opening hours and checkpoints set up on bridges and access points to search pedestrians’ bags.

A Reuters reporter was among 30 to 40 people being held in the basement of a supermarket for their own safety in central Strasbourg, waiting for police to clear the area. Lights were switched off and bottles of water handed out.

In a statement Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson said: “Tonight’s shooting incident at the Christmas markets at Place Kleber in Strasbourg has shocked the city.

“I was in the city centre at the time and heard the gunfire and people, including young children, running away in panic.

“This incident has caused panic in the area with crowds of people out enjoying the Christmas markets.

“Details of the incident are still emerging but my thoughts are with those injured and all of those caught up in this incident.”

Doris Manou told the BBC: “Earlier on I was walking around the Christmas market in central Strasbourg and I passed Place Kleber where the shooting took place just minutes before it happened.

“Then I continued walking on Rue du Dome when I saw the army with a group of 10-12 soldiers walking towards me with their guns pointed to the street and around them everyone was running from all directions.

“The soldiers were very focused on their mission, they were running.”

She said she and several others then threw themselves to the floor in a courtyard of a building thinking there could be a bomb, before some students in a nearby building offered them refuge.

She said she remains sheltered in the building having been advised it is not yet safe to leave.

In 2016, a truck ploughed into a Bastille Day crowd in Nice, killing more than 80, while in November 2015, coordinated 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 satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a kosher store.

Almost exactly two years ago, a Tunisian Islamist rammed a hijacked truck into a Christmas market in central Berlin, killing 11 people as well as the driver.

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