December 11, 2018
Police launched a manhunt after the killer opened fire at around 7 pm local time (1800 GMT), sending crowds of evening shoppers fleeing for safety | AFP / Frederick FLORIN
A gunman killed at least two people and seriously injured another 11 near the famed Christmas market in the French city of Strasbourg on Tuesday before fleeing the scene, security officials said.
Police launched a manhunt after the killer opened fire at around 7pm local time (1800 GMT), sending crowds of evening shoppers fleeing for safety.
Soldiers patrolling the area as part of regular anti-terror operations exchanged fire with the gunman and injured him, but could not stop him escaping the scene, police sources said.
Police said officers later exchanged gunfire with the suspect as he fled.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the shooter had been identified and had a criminal background.
Security forces sealed off the historic centre of the city, which is the capital of the Alsace region and lies on the border of Germany.
“We heard several shots, three perhaps, and we saw people running,” one witness told AFP afterwards, asking not to be named.
“One of them fell down, I don’t know whether it was because she was tripped up or if she was hit,” the witness said.
The Strasbourg-based European Parliament was on lockdown after reports of the shooting emerged, with MEPs, staff and journalists unable to leave the building, an AFP reporter said.
The parliament is currently in plenary session, with hundreds of MEPs and officials having made the monthly visit to Strasbourg from Brussels.
– Tourist attraction –
The Christmas market in Strasbourg is an annual tourist attraction that draws hundreds of thousands of people.
Security has been stepped up in recent years after a series of attacks in France by Islamist gunmen since 2015 and the Strasbourg market was considered a possible target.
In 2016, a 23-year-old Tunisian killed 12 and injured 48 others when he ploughed a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.
Special anti-terror army units have been deployed in Strasbourg and soldiers and armed police are regularly seen patrolling among the 300 wooden chalets of the market.
The shooting on Tuesday comes at a time when French security fores are stretched after more than three weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
Nearly 90,000 police were deployed on Saturday for the fourth round of protests by so-called “yellow vests” which led to violence in many cities.
Three years after groups of jihadists gunned down and blew up 130 people in Paris on November 13, 2015, French counter-terror officials say their focus has shifted.
Rather than coordinated attacks, their main concern is attacks by “lone wolves” — self-radicalised individuals acting without links to terror groups such as Islamic State.