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France

Onlookers applaud as French police shoot dead Strasbourg Christmas market gunman Cherif Chekatt

  • Cherif Chekatt had been the subject of a massive manhunt since opening fire on Strasbourg’s popular Christmas market this week, killing three people
  • Dozens of police vehicles converged on the Neudorf area where officers were cheered by members of the public after the shooting
PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 4:49am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 7:31pm

French police on Thursday shot dead a gunman who had been on the run since killing three people at Strasbourg’s popular Christmas market, sources said.

More than 700 French security forces had been hunting for 29-year-old Cherif Chekatt since the bloodshed on Tuesday night.

He was believed to have been injured after exchanging fire with soldiers during the attack, but managed to escape and had not been seen since getting out of a taxi in the Neudorf area of the northern French city.

Minutes before the fatal shooting on Thursday, a helicopter with a powerful searchlight flew over Neudorf.

Gunman on the run after killing 3, wounding 12 at Christmas market in Strasbourg

“He fired on a team of police who returned fire,” a police source said.

Dozens of police vehicles converged on the area where police were applauded after the shooting. “Bravo!” some shouted as people gathered at the police cordon.

Police in several other countries earlier joined the manhunt for Chekatt, a Strasbourg native and career criminal with at least 27 convictions in four European states.

Authorities published Chekatt’s picture late Wednesday with police describing him as dangerous and urging people not to approach him.

A fifth person was detained by police for questioning on Thursday, in addition to the suspect’s parents and two brothers who have been in custody since Wednesday.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who was due to visit the scene and give a news conference later Thursday, had announced that the Strasbourg Christmas market would reopen on Friday.

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French President Emmanuel Macron expressed “the solidarity of the whole country” towards the victims as he arrived for a European summit in Brussels.

“It is not only France that has been hit … but a great European city as well,” he added, referring to the seat of the European parliament in the eastern French city that lies on the border with Germany.

As police were hunting Chekatt Thursday, the French government urged “yellow vest” protesters not to hold another round of demonstrations this weekend, given the strain on the country’s security forces.

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Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux called on the anti-government protesters to be “reasonable” and not protest again Saturday, after nearly four weeks of often violent demonstrations which has led the government to offer a range of financial relief to low earners.

“Our security forces have been deployed extensively these past few weeks,” Griveaux told CNews television.

Footage from shooting (warning, disturbing content)

“It would be better if everyone could go about their business calmly on Saturday, before the year-end celebrations with their families, instead of demonstrating and putting our security forces to work once again,” he added.

Strasbourg’s location in the heart of western Europe means that Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg can be easily reached by car or train, making the search for Chekatt more complicated.

Swiss police had reinforced border checks, while German authorities also widely published the photo of the suspect, which showed him with dark hair, a short beard and a visible mark on his forehead.

In 2016, a jihadist responsible for an attack on a Christmas market in Berlin was shot and killed only three days later in Milan in northern Italy after travelling through the Netherlands and France.

The Strasbourg suspect, who lived in a rundown apartment block a short drive from the city centre, was flagged by French security forces in 2015 as a possible Islamic extremist.

France has been hit by a wave of attacks from gunmen claiming allegiance to al-Qaeda or Islamic State since 2015, which have claimed the lives of 246 people before Tuesday’s attack.

No group has claimed responsibility for the Strasbourg attack, but social media accounts used by Islamic State sympathisers have celebrated the killings.