French police have detained five people in connection with Tuesday's deadly attack on a popular Christmas Market in the French city of Strasbourg - which unfolded only a few blocks away from the European Parliament. However, the shooter, who was reportedly wounded in the attack before commandeering a taxi to make his escape, remains at large, and French authorities worry that he may have fled to neighboring Germany, according to the Financial Times.
Some 350 police and gendarmes are actively searching for the suspect. France has issued an "urgence attentat" (emergency attack) alert, which temporarily expands police powers and forces officers to maintain "a higher degree of vigilance," according to the BBC. Police said they had cordoned off areas in the south of the city and tightened border controls. Meanwhile, Paris prosecutors have launched a murder investigation as well as a probe into "attempted murder in relation with a terrorist enterprise."
The first shots rang out in Strasbourg's city center at around 8 pm local time (1 pm ET). A French prosecutor said the suspect shouted "Allahu Akbar" - 'God is great' in Arabic - during the shooting.
The mayor of Strasbourg, Roland Ries, said the Christmas market will be closed on Wednesday and flags lowered to half-mast at the local town hall. The shooting unfolded during a regular session of the European Parliament, which is situated roughly 1.5 miles from the city center where the shooting unfolded. Some 2,000 MEPs and their staff were ordered to remain inside the building for hours.
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani declared the assembly would not "be intimidated by terrorist or criminal attack." "Let us move on. We will continue to work and react strengthened by freedom and democracy against terrorist violence."
Little information about the suspected gunman has been released. Still, an unconfirmed photo of what's believed to be the attacker has circulated on social media.
The most recent casualty count put the death toll at three, while 13 people were wounded, eight of them seriously, according to the BBC (though it's worth noting that the body count varied between media outlets).
The suspect, Cherif Chekatt, 29, was born and raised in Strasbourg
His activities within the local radical Islamic community raised red flags and he had been added to a terror watch list
He was known as a potential security risk
The 29-year-old was sent to jail by a court in the German town of Singen for a violent robbery in Germany. After serving the sentence, Chekatt, a French national with North African roots, was deported back to France in 2017
He has also spent time in prison in France and is believed to have been radicalized in prison. He has been described as "notorious" to police, with a long criminal record
All told, the public prosecutor said the suspect has been convicted 27 times in France, Germany and Switzerland
Police had intended to arrest Chekatt in connection with an armed robbery hours before he allegedly opened fire on the Christmas market – but he was nowhere to be found when they raided his home. Police did, however, discover a grenade
Investigators are still working to establish a motive in the attack
The suspect fired three separate volleys into the crowds at the Christmas market then engaged twice with patrolling soldiers from Opération Sentinelle, a nationwide security operation established after a series of terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015
The Strasbourg attacked unfolded during a period of tension when France is still struggling with violent demonstrations against the government of Emmanuel Macron. It was also the latest in a string of terror attacks in France and neighboring countries, including a 2016 assault on a Christmas market in Berlin.
Finally, and for good measure, President Trump saw fit to chime in on the wall...
Another very bad terror attack in France. We are going to strengthen our borders even more. Chuck and Nancy must give us the votes to get additional Border Security!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2018
The Democrats and President Obama gave Iran 150 Billion Dollars and got nothing, but they can’t give 5 Billion Dollars for National Security and a Wall?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2018