French police forces take position in the Neudorf district of Strasbourg, eastern France. Picture: AP
French police forces take position in the Neudorf district of Strasbourg, eastern France. Picture: AP

Christmas market shooter shot dead by police

French police have shot dead a gunman who had been on the run since killing three people at Strasbourg's popular Christmas market.

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 eastern French city.

Minutes before he was shot dead on Thursday evening local time, a helicopter with powerful searchlight flew over Neudorf.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told reporters that police swooped after the suspect was spotted in the street.

Officers tried to arrest him, but he shot at police. "They immediately returned fire and neutralised the assailant," Castaner 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, a source said.

French police forces take position in the Neudorf district of Strasbourg, eastern France. Picture: AP/Jean-Francois Badias
French police forces take position in the Neudorf district of Strasbourg, eastern France. Picture: AP/Jean-Francois Badias

Prosecutors have opened a terror investigation.

Chekatt allegedly shouted "God is great!" in Arabic and sprayed gunfire during Tuesday's rampage, where he also wounded 13 people.

It follows a three day manhunt for Chekatt, who grew up in Neudorf, just south of the city centre.

The suspect had a long criminal record and had been flagged for extremism, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told CNews television.

Asked about the instructions they received while searching for the gunman, Griveaux said the focus was catching Chekatt "as soon as possible," dead or alive, and to "put an end to the manhunt."

So far, five people have been arrested and remanded in custody in connection with the investigation, including Chekatt's parents and two of his brothers.

The Paris prosecutor's office said the fifth person, who was arrested yesterday at an undisclosed location, was a member of Chekatt's "entourage" but not a family member.

Police distributed a photo of Chekatt, with the warning: "Individual dangerous, above all do not intervene."

France has raised its three-stage threat index to the highest level since the attack and deployed 1800 additional soldiers across the country to help patrol streets and secure crowded events.

Cherif Chekatt, the suspect in the shooting in Strasbourg, France. Picture: French Police/AP
Cherif Chekatt, the suspect in the shooting in Strasbourg, France. Picture: French Police/AP

In the wake of the attack, Griveaux called on protesters who have become known as the "yellow vests" and who have been demonstrating across France since last month not to take to the streets again this weekend.

French authorities said Chekatt, born in Strasbourg, appeared on a watch list of people flagged for extremist views.

They said he had 27 criminal convictions, receiving the first at age 13.

The people who died in the attack included a Thai tourist, 45-year-old Anupong Suebsamarn, according to the Thai Foreign Ministry.

Five of the wounded were in serious condition, the prefecture of the Strasbourg region said. French President Emmanuel Macron was in Brussels today for a European Union summit.

EU leaders held a minute of silence for victims.

Hundreds of people gathered in Strasbourg's 500-year-old cathedral to mourn and seek comfort.

"Evil does not prevail," Archbishop Luc Ravel said.

"And the message of Christmas has not been contradicted but rather confirmed by Tuesday's dramatic night: Evil and good are both there, but in the end the good will have last word." Strasbourg's usually busy streets were eerily empty this morning, with a heavy police and military presence.

"You can feel a very heavy atmosphere due all these events," said resident Lucille Romance. "People are in a state of shock and are avoiding getting out of their house."


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