PARIS – French police on Thursday shot dead a gunman who had been on the run since killing three people at Strasbourg’s popular Christmas market.
Rémy Heitz, the Paris prosecutor, who handles terrorism investigations nationwide, said at a news conference in Strasbourg that witnesses had heard 29-year-old Cherif Chekatt “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic, and that the targets and the suspect’s profile justified the opening of a terrorism investigation.
Officials said the suspect had an extensive record and had served time in prison
More than 700 French security forces had been hunting for 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 northern French city.
Minutes before he was shot dead on Thursday, a helicopter with powerful searchlight flew over Neudorf.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told reporters 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.
Police in several other countries earlier joined the manhunt for Chekatt, a Strasbourg native and career criminal with at least 27 convictions in four European states.
Authorities published Chekatt’s picture late Wednesday with police describing him as dangerous and urging people not to approach him.
A fifth person was detained by police for questioning on Thursday, in addition to the suspect’s parents and two brothers who have been in custody since Wednesday.
The Strasbourg Christmas market is due to reopen on Friday.
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed “the solidarity of the whole country” towards the victims as he arrived for a European summit in Brussels on Thursday.
“It is not only France that has been hit… but a great European city as well,” he added, referring to the seat of the European parliament in the eastern French city that lies on the border with Germany.