Hunt on for gun­man af­ter mar­ket at­tack

China Daily (Canada) - - WORLD -

STRAS­BOURG, France — Hun­dreds of French se­cu­rity forces were de­ployed on Wednes­day in the hunt for a lone gun­man who killed at least three peo­ple and wounded a dozen others at the famed Christ­mas mar­ket in Stras­bourg, with the govern­ment rais­ing the se­cu­rity alert level and re­in­forc­ing bor­der con­trols.

About 350 peo­ple, in­clud­ing po­lice, troops and he­li­copters were on the heels of the at­tacker who had “sowed ter­ror” in the city, In­te­rior Min­is­ter Christophe Cas­taner said.

The killer opened fire at around 8 pm on Tues­day on one of the city’s busiest streets, send­ing crowds of evening shop­pers flee­ing for safety. Cas­taner said the gun­man had killed three peo­ple and wounded 12.

Sol­diers pa­trolling the area as part of reg­u­lar anti-ter­ror op­er­a­tions ex­changed fire with the sus­pect and wounded him, but could not stop him es­cap­ing, po­lice sources said.

Cas­taner also said France had raised its se­cu­rity alert level to “emer­gency at­tack” with “the im­ple­men­ta­tion of re­in­forced bor­der con­trols and tight­ened con­trols on all Christ­mas mar­kets in France to avoid the risk of a copy­cat” at­tack.

The gun­man has been iden­ti­fied and was on a watch­list of sus­pected ex­trem­ists, a state­ment from lo­cal se­cu­rity ser­vices said.

France’s se­cu­rity forces, al­ready on high alert af­ter a se­ries of ter­ror at­tacks since 2015, are par­tic­u­larly stretched at the mo­ment due to antigov­ern­ment protests that have swept the coun­try.

Shortly af­ter the shoot­ing, lines of po­lice ve­hi­cles and am­bu­lances streamed into the mar­ket area, un­der fes­tive lights declar­ing the city the “cap­i­tal of Christ­mas”.

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron on Twit­ter ex­pressed “the sol­i­dar­ity of the whole na­tion” af­ter hold­ing a cri­sis meet­ing with cab­i­net of­fi­cials in Paris.

Two sep­a­rate se­cu­rity sources said on con­di­tion of anonymity that the shooter was be­lieved to be a 29-yearold from the city, whose name was given as Cherif, and who was set to be ar­rested on Tues­day morn­ing. He was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated over an at­tempted mur­der, one of the sources said.

The gun­man cried “Al­lahu Ak­bar” (“God is Great­est”) as he opened fire, France’s anti-ter­ror pros­e­cu­tor Remy Heitz told a news con­fer­ence on Wednes­day, cit­ing wit­nesses.

Four peo­ple con­nected to the main sus­pect were de­tained overnight in the east­ern French city, he added.

“Shocked and sad­dened by the ter­ri­ble at­tack in Stras­bourg. My thoughts are with all of those af­fected and with the French peo­ple,” British Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May said.

Se­cu­rity has been stepped up in re­cent years af­ter a se­ries of at­tacks in France by ex­trem­ist gun­men and the Stras­bourg mar­ket was long con­sid­ered a pos­si­ble tar­get.

In 2016, a 23-year-old Tu­nisian killed 12 and in­jured 48 others when he plowed a truck into a Christ­mas mar­ket in Ber­lin in an at­tack claimed by the Is­lamic State ter­ror group.

Three years af­ter groups of ex­trem­ists gunned down and blew up 130 peo­ple in Paris on Nov 13, 2015, French coun­tert­er­ror of­fi­cials say their fo­cus has shifted.

Rather than co­or­di­nated at­tacks, their main con­cern is at­tacks by “lone wolves” — self-rad­i­cal­ized in­di­vid­u­als act­ing with­out links to ter­ror groups such as the IS.

REUTERS

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