On Tuesday evening, a gunman sprayed gunfire and attacked people with a knife in the crowded Christmas Market in Strasbourg, France, killing three and wounding 13. French authorities arrested five people in connection with the shooting but the gunman is still at large.
The assailant took a taxi driver hostage in order to flee the scene and it is believed he was wounded in a shootout with police. Police believe he may have crossed over the border into Germany.
Police named Cherif Chekatta as the chief suspect. Witnesses reported that Chekatta shouted “Allahu Akhbar” (‘Allah is greater’ in Arabic) during the attack. Chekatta is known to the French security authorities as police attempted to a rrest him on Tuesday for attempted murder. The police told the media that Chekatta may have been radicalized while in German prison, where he was serving a term for “serious theft.” Chekatta has 27 previous convictions in Germany, Switzerland and France, and was placed on the terrorist watch-list while in prison in 2015. He was released from incarceration in 2017.
The shooting is being investigated by the anti-terrorist section of the Paris prosecutor’s office because of “the place targeted, the way the attack was carried out, and the gunman’s profile.” Police are still looking for a motive.
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“The government has raised its security threat to the highest level and is bolstering border controls,” interior minister Christophe Castaner told a late-night news conference. “We will also reinforce security at all Christmas markets to prevent copycat attacks.”
Strasbourg is home to the European Parliament. The city’s Christmas market is one of the largest and most popular in Europe with the city billing itself as “the capital of Christmas” on its website.
In 2000, law enforcement officials reported they had prevented an Al-Qaeda bomb attack at the Strasbourg Christmas market.
The attack in Strasbourg is similar to a ramming attack in a Berlin Christmas market in 2016. Anis Amri, a failed asylum seeker from Tunisia, drove a truck through the crowded market, killing 12 and wounding 56. Four days after the attack, he was killed in a shootout with police near Milan in Italy. Amri received instructions to carry out the attack from the Islamic State (ISIS) and a video of the assailant pledging allegiance to the terrorist group was released after the attack.