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France hunts gunman after three killed, more injured

Paris, Wednesday

Hundreds of police and anti-terror forces hunted Wednesday for a gunman who shot dead three people and wounded 13 at a Christmas market in Strasbourg, with the suspect is known to police and thought to be a religious extremist.

The gunman yelled “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) as he opened fire on people enjoying an evening out at a Christmas market on Tuesday, Paris public prosecutor Rémy Heitz told reporters.  The man, named by local media as Chérif Chekatt, was known to authorities as having been radicalised in prison.

The 29-year-old was armed with a gun and a knife and escaped the area in a taxi, Heitz said. The attacker boasted to the driver – who has spoken to police—that he had killed 10 people, and said he had been injured in a firefight with soldiers.

Hundreds of officers are currently involved in the search for the gunman. France’s Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nuñez earlier acknowledged he may no longer be in France.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the country had moved to a high level of alert, expanding police powers and increasing vigilance.

He added that border controls had been strengthened and security at all Christmas markets would be stepped up.  The mayor of Strasbourg, Roland Ries, has said the Christmas market will be closed on Wednesday and flags lowered to half-mast at the local town hall.

According to police—who refer to him as Chérif C—the gunman was born in Strasbourg and was already known to the security services as a possible terrorist threat.

He also had 27 convictions spanning across France, Germany and Switzerland, and has spent considerable time in prison as a result. Police were seeking him on Tuesday morning in connection with another case but did not find him at home.

However, Nuñez said his crimes had never been terrorism-related. But, he added, it was during one period in prison that he was identified as having become radicalised. “The fact he was a ‘fiche S’ did not pre-judge his level of dangerousness,” Nuñez said. -BBC

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