STRASBOURG (Reuters) – Hundreds of police scoured eastern France yesterday for a fugitive gunman behind a deadly Strasbourg Christmas market attack that left three people dead and five others fighting for their lives.
France has raised its security threat to the highest level and police issued a wanted poster for Cherif Chekatt, the main suspect in the attack who was on a watchlist as a potential security threat.
Authorities say the 29-year-old was known to have developed radical religious views while in jail.
More than 700 police are involved in the second day of the manhunt, scouring Strasbourg, which lies on the west bank of the Rhine river, and the surrounding region. Police have set up checkpoints on the German border and questioning the suspect’s associates.
Asked if police had been instructed to catch Mr Chekatt dead or alive, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told CNews: “It doesn’t matter. The best thing would be to find him as quickly as possible.”
It took police four months to track down Salah Abdesalam, the prime surviving suspect from the November 2015 militant attack on Paris, in an apartment in Brussels.
Witnesses told investigators that the suspect Chekatt cried out “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greater) as he opened fire on the Christmas market, a target Paris Prosecutor Remy Heitz suggested may have been chosen for its religious symbolism.
Mr Chekatt’s police file photo shows a bearded man of North African descent, a prayer bruise blemishing the center of his forehead. He has 27 criminal convictions for theft and violence, and has spent time in French, German and Swiss jails.
Neighbours living on the housing estate where Mr Chekatt family lived described the suspect as a typical young man who dressed in jogging pants and trainers rather than traditional Islamic robes.
Two people were killed in the attack and a third person died in the hospital, the prosecutor said. Five other victims were fighting for their lives.
The attack took place at a testing time for President Emmanuel Macron, who on Monday announced tax concessions to quell a month-long public revolt over living costs that spurred the worst unrest in central Paris since the 1968 student riots.
Griveaux said a decision had yet to be taken on whether to ban another planned “yellow vest” protest in Paris. The last three consecutive Saturdays of riots in the capital that have seen cars torched, shops looted and the Arc de Triomphe defaced.