Police hunt for ‘Strasbourg killer’

December 13, 2018

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STRASBOURG: Security personnel carry out a search operation on a bank of the river Rhine on Wednesday.—AFP
STRASBOURG: Security personnel carry out a search operation on a bank of the river Rhine on Wednesday.—AFP

STRASBOURG: Police searched through eastern France on Wednesday for a man suspected of killing at least two people in a gun attack on a Christmas market and who was known to have been radicalised while in jail.

Witnesses told investigators the assailant cried out “Allahu Akbar” as he launched his attack on the market, the Paris prosecutor said.

The prosecutor, Remy Heitz, suggested the suspect might have chosen his target for its religious symbolism. “Considering the target, his way of operating, his profile and the testimonies of those who heard him shout ‘Allahu Akbar’, the anti-terrorist police have been called into action,” he told a news conference.

Police identified the suspect as Strasbourg-born Cherif Chekatt, 29, who is on an intelligence services watch list as a potential security risk.

An investigation had been opened into alleged murder with terrorist intent and suspected ties to terrorist networks with intent to commit crimes, Heitz said.

Two people were killed and another person was brain-dead and being kept alive on life support, he said. Six other victims were fighting for their lives.

France raised its security threat to the highest alert level, strengthening controls on its border with Germany as elite commandos backed by helicopters hunted for the suspect.

French and German agents checked vehicles and public transport crossing the Rhine river, along which the Franco-German frontier runs, backing up traffic in both directions. Hundreds of French troops and police were taking part in the manhunt.

Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said he could not rule out that the fugitive had already crossed the frontier.

The mother, father and two brothers of the suspect are being held in custody for questioning, according to sources close to the investigation.

The gunman struck at about 1900 GMT on Tuesday, just as the picturesque Christmas market in the historic city was shutting down. He engaged in two gunfights with security personnel as he evaded a police dragnet and bragged about his acts to the driver of a taxi that he commandeered, prosecutor Heitz said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility, but the US-based Site intelligence group, which monitors militant websites, said supporters of the militant Islamic State group were celebrating.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2018