Gunman from Christmas market attack in France still at large
STRASBOURG, France — Hundreds of security forces combed eastern France for a 29-year-old man with a long criminal record who shouted ‘‘God is great!’’ in Arabic and sprayed gunfire during a deadly rampage in Strasbourg’s famous Christmas market, officials said.
Tuesday night’s attack, which killed two people, left a third brain-dead, and injured 12, was a stark reminder to a nation wounded by previous assaults that terrorism remains a threat, even as antigovernment protests roil the country.
National police distributed a photo of the wounded fugitive, identified as Cherif Chekatt, with the warning: ‘‘Individual dangerous, above all do not intervene.’’
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told lawmakers that the French native had run-ins with police starting at age 10 and his first conviction at age 13.
Chekatt had been convicted 27 times, mostly in France but also in Switzerland and Germany, for crimes including armed robbery. He had been flagged for extremism and was on a watch list.
The emerging profile pointed to an increasingly common hybrid extremist who moves from acts of delinquency to sowing terror.
Chekatt was flagged as a potential extremist, but Castaner said ‘‘the signs had been weak.’’
A terrorism investigation was opened, but the exact motive remained unclear.
The suspect’s parents and two brothers, also known for radicalism, were detained, a judicial official said.
Prosecutor Remy Heitz said the man attacked with a handgun and a knife about 8 p.m. Tuesday, and was shot in the arm during an exchange of fire with soldiers during his rampage. He then took a taxi to another part of the city, boasting of the attack to the driver, and later exchanged more gunfire with police and disappeared, Heitz said.
Witnesses described shots and screams after the gunman opened fire and yelled ‘‘God is great!’’ in Arabic, the prosecutor added. Swaths of the city were under lockdown for hours.
The dead included a Thai tourist, 45-year-old Anupong Suebsamarn, according to the Thai Foreign Ministry, The Khao Sod newspaper quoted his uncle as saying he and his wife had planned to visit Paris, but the protests there prompted them to change plans and go to Strasbourg instead.
One Italian was reported to be among the wounded. Italian media said Antonio Megalizzi, 28, was in critical condition. Italian daily La Repubblica reported he was in Strasbourg to follow the session of the European Parliament. Strasbourg is home to the assembly.
After initially reporting that three people had died, authorities revised that and said one was brain-dead, while 12 people were wounded, six of them gravely.
About 720 police, soldiers, and SWAT team officers in Strasbourg were being reinforced with 500 more soldiers and another 1,300 in the coming days to guard public places, especially other Christmas markets, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said after a crisis meeting. The government raised the security level after the attack.
The attack in the heart of old Strasbourg, near its famous cathedral and within the Christmas market that draws many tourists, unsettled the border city.
The market ‘‘is a family and brotherly celebration that speaks about hope and what unites us. It’s this celebration that was hit yesterday by a terrorist act,’’ Philippe said.
The German government said it had stepped up controls on the border with France.