Hunt for Strasbourg killer spreads to Germany
Suspect has 27 convictions in 3 countries
• The hunt for a suspected terrorist who killed two in Strasbourg, France, and left a third victim with brain damage, spread to Germany Wednesday as authorities confirmed he had shouted “Allahu akbar” before opening fire.
Another 12 people were injured, with at least two in critical condition from head injuries. The Strasbourg-born suspect was named as 29-year-old Cherif Chekatt, who is believed to have gone on a killing spree with a gun and long knife near the city’s famed Christmas market, visited by 2 million people every year.
Speaking after the attack, French president Emmanuel Macron said: “The terrorist threat is still at the heart of the life of our nation.” As police launched a call for witnesses and 720 officers hunted for the suspect, questions were raised last night as to why he was considered a potentially dangerous radical in France but nothing more than a common criminal in Germany.
Remy Heitz, the Paris prosecutor, said the suspect had 27 previous convictions in France, Germany and Switzerland for theft and armed robbery. He was first flagged to authorities at the age of 10. He was added to a watch list while in prison in France in 2015 for “practising a radical form of religion.”
Since then, France’s domestic intelligence agency, the DGSI, has kept tabs on him. However, a spokesman of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office, which handles cases related to terrorism, said they had been given no indication of this, saying: “For us, he was a blank slate.”
Chekatt has served time in German prison for several robberies. An interior ministry spokesman said Germany was unaware of any Islamist link. He is one of 25,000 people on France’s “S” watch list of individuals, seen as potential security threats.
German authorities were on alert for the fugitive along the Rhine bordering France and Germany, said a spokesman from the Baden-Wurttemberg region.
“At the moment we do not believe he has crossed into the country,” he said.
Police had tried to detain Chekatt on Tuesday morning in connection with an attempted murder inquiry, but he was not at home.
They found a grenade, a rifle and four knives during a search of the suspect’s house on Tuesday morning.
Four members of his family were detained for questioning.
Police believe Chekatt was shot in the arm during an exchange of fire with French soldiers in Strasbourg’s city centre. He then forced a taxi driver to take him to another part of the city.
Later, he crossed four policemen. They responded when he opened fire but once again he managed to flee.
At the drab housing estate where he lived in Hohberg, on the outskirts of Strasbourg, neighbours were adamant that Chekatt was no Islamist but a cornered criminal who had “lost his marbles,” they said.
Only one victim has been named — Anupong Suebsamarn, a 45-year-old from Thailand who was visiting Strasbourg with his wife, who was injured.
Members of the French police special forces RAID conduct searches on a bank of the river Rhine in Strasbourg on Wednesday in their hunt for the gunman who opened fire near a Christmas market Tuesday night in Strasbourg, France. Two have died and 13 are injured.