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What we know so far about the Strasbourg Christmas market shooting

The gunman "sowed terror at three points" in the eastern city of Strasbourg, leaving three dead and several critically injured. Here's what we know about the Christmas market attack and the suspect behind it.

What we know so far about the Strasbourg Christmas market shooting
Photo: AFP

French police were Wednesday hunting a lone gunman who killed three people and wounded around a dozen others at the famous Christmas market in Strasbourg.

Here is what we know about the attack:

An hour of terror 

Around 7:50 pm (1850 GMT) Tuesday, a lone man opened fire several times in the centre of Strasbourg, which every year holds a Christmas market, drawing
in huge crowds of shoppers and tourists.

The suspect was quickly identified as a 29-year-old man born in Strasbourg and already known to the police.

He “sowed terror (…) at three points in the city,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said.

“Soldiers of the Sentinelle force used their weapons to try to intercept the assailant, and between 8:20 pm and 9:00 pm he twice confronted our security forces with systematic exchanges of fire,” he said, referring to soldiers deployed under the country's anti-terror operation, in place since attacks in 2015.

In his attack, the man killed three people and wounded 11 others, five seriously and six slightly, before fleeing and rushing into a taxi, according
to a source close to the investigation.

The taxi driver, unscathed, told police the suspect was injured on his left hand. He reportedly got out of the taxi near the city's police station.

The military reported that a soldier was also lightly wounded by the ricochet of a shot from the attacker.

The busy Christmas market site had been under close surveillance due to the high jihadist threat, especially since it was the target of a planned attack in December 2000.

Known to security services

The suspect was well known to the authorities and had been convicted in France and Germany and served his sentences, the minister said.

In 2016 he was flagged by anti-terrorist services, according to a source close to the investigation.

“The attacker, who was on the S list (of extremists watched by police), is actively being hunted by security forces,” local officials said in a statement.

He had been reported by the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) intelligence agency during a visit to prison where he was noted for violence and religious proselytism, according to the source.

Before the attack on Tuesday, the fugitive was already wanted for armed robbery, according to a source close to the case, while another source said he
was linked to an investigation of attempted homicide.

Earlier the same day, police had searched his home but found no trace of him.

While his precise motives remain to be established, the anti-terrorist prosecutor has found sufficient clues to open an investigation for “assassinations and attempted assassinations in connection with a terrorist enterprise”.

Paris public prosecutor Remy Heitz was due to speak on Wednesday, Castaner said.

Troops and police

Significant resources have been deployed to track down the fugitive.

On the ground, 350 people have been mobilised, including 100 police personnel supported by two helicopters, officers from elite units, and also soldiers of Operation Sentinelle, which protect sensitive places which could be terrorism targets, the minister said.

After raising the security alert level to “emergency attack”, the minister announced reinforced border controls.

Additional resources were also to be sent to Strasbourg which would be under strengthened surveillance. 

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TERRORISM

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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