Armed police swoop in hunt for Strasbourg Christmas market gunman

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Dozens of armed police have cordoned off an area of Strasbourg in the hunt for the gunman who killed three at a Christmas market.

Members of France’s elite RAID force are involved and several streets have been close down in the Neudorf area.

A police official told the AP news agency that security forces were acting on “supposition only” that the suspect, Cherif Chekkat, could be hiding in a nearby building

More than 700 police have been hunting Chekatt after the 29-year-old managed to escape following a gunfight with police in the hours after Tuesday’s attack.

The gunman had yelled “Allahu Akbar” before opening fire and police were treating it as a terrorist incident.

French special police forces secure an area during a police operation in the Meinau district after the deadly shooting in Strasbourg
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Elite officers are involved in the search for the gunman
French special police forces secure a street during a police operation in the Neudorf district after the deadly shooting in Strasbourg, France, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
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Dozens of police have descended on the Neudorf area

Asked if police had been told to capture the killer dead or alive, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux earlier told France’s CNews: “It doesn’t matter. The best thing would be to find him as quickly as possible.”

A wanted poster issued for Chekatt warns: “Dangerous individual, above all do not intervene.”

Hundreds of extra police and soldiers are being deployed to guard other public places, especially Christmas markets, said French prime minister Edouard Philippe.

Chekatt had 27 convictions in France, Germany and Switzerland, and authorities believe he became radicalised while in jail.

French police released the wanted poster of the suspect
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French police released the wanted poster of the suspect

He was also one of 25,000 people on the “S file” security risk – reserved for people suspected of extremism – and was being monitored since 2015.

Three people were killed in the attack, including a Thai tourist named by the embassy in Paris as 45-year-old Anupong Suebsamarn.

The other victims have not been named but French media report one is a 52-year-old Strasbourg man who was killed while leaving a restaurant.

Prosecutor Remy Heitz confirmed on Wednesday that one victim had been left brain dead.

Around a dozen more people were injured – some of them seriously – and a Strasbourg mosque posted on Facebook to say one of its members was in a coma after being hit in the head.

Police officers patrol in front of Strasbourg's cathedral
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Police officers patrolled in front of Strasbourg’s cathedral on Wednesday night
People lit candles at the Christmas market on Wednesday evening
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People have been leaving candles and flowers at the scene

Grande Mosquee Eyyub Sultan de Strasbourg named the man as “Brother Kamal”, who worked as a mechanic.

An Italian radio journalist was also reported to be fighting for his life after taking a bullet to the head.

Antonio Megalizzi, 28, from the northern city of Trento, was in Strasbourg to cover a session of the European Parliament, reported Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

Chekatt was shot in the arm during a gunfight with police but managed to escape in a taxi, boasting of the attack to the driver, who was forced to drop him in another part of the city.

Authorities say he exchanged more gunfire with police and disappeared.

During an operation to try to arrest Chekatt on Tuesday morning, hours before the attack, officers found a grenade, rifle and four knives.

Prosecutor Remy Heitz said: “Considering the target, his way of operating, his profile and the testimonies of those who heard him yell ‘Allahu Akbar’, the anti-terrorist police has been called into action.”

Strasbourg’s mayor also said the shooting was indisputably a terrorist attack.

More follows…

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