An attack carried out at a traditional Christmas market in Strasbourg, France by at least one armed man has left three victims dead.
France’s Interior Minister, Christophe Castaner, confirmed that at approximately 2:20 am on December 12, one known lone gunman opened fire in the crowded market, wounding at least 12 and killing instantly the three victims reported previously.
As a response, Castaner said France had raised its terror threat level to “Attack Emergency”, the highest possible and would be upgrading its security across the country, including at its borders and hundreds of Christmas markets.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe convened a crisis meeting of the interior ministry, which was also attended by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Anti-terror police were, shortly thereafter, deployed across the country are investigating the incident, but a motive had not yet been confirmed. The area around Kleber Square, including the central ‘island’ of Strasbourg, was immediately sealed off after the attack and later opened.
Broadcasting live on Twitter from the European Parliament, where dozens of MEPs were trapped as a result of the shooting, President Antonio Tajani announced that Strasbourg’s city centre “is not safe,” and a police escort would be necessary for those who want to travel into the city’s central core.
I express all my sorrow for the victims of the Strasbourg attacks. This Parliament will not be intimidated by terrorist or criminal attacks. Let us move on. We will continue to work and react strengthened by freedom and democracy against terrorist violence.
— Antonio Tajani (@EP_President) December 11, 2018
The 29-year-old gunman, identified by police as Strasbourg-born Chekatt Cherif, remains at large, though unconfirmed reports by Reuters indicated that French law enforcement officials may be closing in on his whereabouts.
Cherif had been identified by France’s internal security services as a suspected risk. He is said to be on a watch list of around 26,000 people, of whom 10,000 are believed to have been radicalised. Born in Strasbourg, Cherif had already been flagged as a suspected extremist, according to local media.
The Christmas market attack came after the police had unsuccessfully raided Cherif’s home, where grenades and other explosives were found while he was on the run. Law enforcement officials in Strasbourg had suspected that Cherif was tied to an ongoing homicide investigation and had been questioned by police several hours before carrying out the attack.
EU condemns the attack
Speaking to his College of Commissioners while in Strasbourg European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker offered his condolences to the victims and condemned the attack, saying, “My thoughts are with the victims of the Strasbourg shooting, which I condemn with the utmost firmness. Strasbourg is an excellent symbol of peace and European Democracy. Values that we will always defend.”