Stras­bourg sus­pect killed in shoot-out

Is­lamic State claims that gun­man was one of its sol­diers

Pretoria News Weekend - - WORLD - Reuters

STRAS­BOURG re­opened its tra­di­tional Christ­mas mar­ket un­der heavy se­cu­rity yes­ter­day, the morn­ing af­ter French po­lice shot dead a gun­man sus­pected of killing three peo­ple in the heart of the his­toric city.

Cherif Chekatt, 29, was killed in the Neu­dorf neigh­bour­hood of Stras­bourg af­ter fir­ing on po­lice, end­ing a two-day man­hunt that in­volved more than 700 mem­bers of the se­cu­rity forces.

The at­tack on Stras­bourg’s cher­ished Christ­mas mar­ket, a tar­get full of reli­gious sym­bol­ism, evoked France’s dif­fi­cul­ties in in­te­grat­ing west­ern Europe’s largest Mus­lim mi­nor­ity and deal­ing with home-grown mil­i­tants in­spired by Is­lamic State.

“It’s re­open­ing just in time,” said stall­holder Bernard Kuntz, pre­par­ing his scarves and stoles im­ported from In­dia ahead of the ex­pected ar­rival of French In­te­rior Min­is­ter Christophe Cas­taner, who was ex­pected to speak.

“We were get­ting wor­ried. Some of the guys have taken out loans to be here, and we’ve al­ready lost two days.”

Stras­bourg mayor Roland Ries de­scribed the at­tack as in­dis­putably an act of ter­ror­ism, ex­pressed re­lief that Chekatt had been killed and said ev­ery­one in Stras­bourg, on east­ern France’s Rhine River bor­der with Ger­many, felt the same.

French troops, who have been used to bol­ster na­tional se­cu­rity since a wave of Is­lamic State-in­spired at­tacks be­gan in France in 2015, stood guard at the open-air mar­ket.

“I think it will help to get back to a life that I would de­scribe as nor­mal,” Ries told re­porters af­ter the news that Chekatt had been killed. “With the death of this ter­ror­ist… ci­ti­zens, like me, are re­lieved.”

Is­lamic State claimed Chekatt as one of its sol­diers, say­ing he “car­ried out the op­er­a­tion in re­sponse to calls for ci­ti­zens of coali­tion coun­tries” fight­ing the mil­i­tant group.

Is­lamic State pro­vided no ev­i­dence for the claim and Cas­taner called it “op­por­tunis­tic”.

“Noth­ing in­di­cates that (Chekatt) was part of a net­work. There is noth­ing to sug­gest that he was be­ing pro­tected by such, but the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is not yet over,” Cas­taner told Europe 1.

He de­scribed Chekatt as a long­time delin­quent whose Is­lamic be­liefs were rad­i­calised dur­ing pe­ri­ods in prison. Po­lice were still in­ter­ro­gat­ing seven as­so­ciates yes­ter­day, in­clud­ing his par­ents, to de­ter­mine whether he had ac­com­plices.

France ramped up its se­cu­rity threat to its high­est level af­ter Chekatt struck late on Tues­day. Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe promised an ex­tra 1800 troops would be on pa­trols with a spe­cial fo­cus on Christ­mas mar­kets.

The out­door mar­ket in Stras­bourg, cen­tred on a tow­er­ing Christ­mas Tree in Place Kle­ber, draws more than 2 mil­lion visi­tors each year. |

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