France hunts gunman as alert level raised

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-46535552

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Media captionPater Fritz describes hearing gunshots and helping a victim of the Strasbourg shooting

France has issued a maximum level of alert as police hunt a gunman who opened fire at a Christmas market in the eastern city of Strasbourg.

Three people were killed and 13 wounded, eight of them seriously.

The gunman, 29, known to authorities as a suspected extremist, escaped after reportedly being injured.

Some 350 officers are involved in the search for the gunman. France’s counter terrorism prosecutor has opened an investigation.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the country had issued an “urgence attentat” (emergency attack) alert, expanding police powers and creating the highest degree of 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.

What happened?

The attack unfolded at around 20:00 local time (19:00 GMT) on Tuesday close to Strasbourg’s famed Christmas market near one of the central squares, Place Kléber, which attracts thousands of visitors at this time of year.

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The new alert level heightens powers of the police

The gunman exchanged fire with officers who were patrolling the area as part of anti-terror measures.

It is thought he was injured. According to Mr Castaner, the man “fought twice with our security forces”.

How did he escape?

According to France’s BFM TV, he managed to reach a taxi which drove him away from the scene and dropped him in the vicinity of the police station in Neudorf, the area where he is understood to live.

It was the taxi driver who told police the man was wounded in his left leg.

Residents in Neudorf have been urged to stay indoors.

What do we know about the gunman?

A picture is beginning to emerge of the suspected attacker, although a motive is still not known.

He has not been officially named, but French media are referring to him as Cherif C.

According to police, he was born in Strasbourg and was already known to the security services as a possible terrorist threat: he was the subject of a “fiche S”, the same system under which Amedy Coulibaly – who attacked a supermarket in 2015 – was flagged.

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Armed police secure the area after the deadly shooting incident on Tuesday

He is understood to have served prison sentences in both France and Germany.

BFM TV described him as a “repeat offender” and “delinquent”, adding he was part of known extremist networks in the city.

Stephane Morisse, from the FGP police union, said the man’s flat in the Neudorf district of the city had been searched by police in connection with a robbery on Tuesday morning, but he was not there.

Grenades were found during the search, according to BFM TV.

What about the victims?

Nothing is known of the victims yet.

However, eyewitness Pater Fritz told the BBC he heard gunfire and found a person who had been shot, lying on a bridge. He said he tried to resuscitate him but the man died.

He said no ambulance services had been able to enter the area, adding: “After 45 minutes we stopped the resuscitation [attempt], because a doctor told us on the phone that it was senseless.”

Another eyewitness, who gave his name as Fatih, told AFP news agency that after the shots were fired there was “pandemonium” on the streets.

“People were running everywhere,” he said.

Local journalist Bruno Poussard wrote on Twitter that there had been a dozen shots fired on his street in the city centre – one or two to begin with, then in bursts.

The impact of the shooting was felt further away from the square as well.

The European Parliament, which is nearby, was placed on lockdown. The parliament’s president, Antonio Tajani, tweeted to say it would “not be intimidated by terrorist or criminal attacks”.

Emmanuel Foulon, a press officer for the European Parliament, wrote that there was “panic” in the centre following the sound of gunfire and that police with guns were running through the streets.

British MEP Richard Corbett tweeted that he was in a restaurant in the city and the doors had been locked.

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