At least 2 dead in shooting near Strasbourg Christmas market in France, gunman on the run
At least two people are dead and several wounded after a gunman, who had previously been flagged as a suspected extremist, shot up a picturesque Christmas market in the French city of Strasbourg on Tuesday evening.
The suspect, 29-year-old Chekatt Cherif, was still on the run as of Wednesday, hours after the attack.
Authorities could not rule out that he had left France altogether.
There was confusion over the death toll, with paramedics and police sources putting it at four, before the local prefecture later said two people had died. In the latest update, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said just after 8:40 p.m. E.T. that three people were killed and 12 injured. On Wednesday, the official death toll had again been revised to two deceased.
He said security agents were still hunting for the gunman, and that France was raising its security threat level and bolstering the protection of Christmas markets around the country.
WATCH: Police seen near city centre after gunfire in Strasbourg
Sources familiar with the police operation said Cherif’s home had been raided earlier in the day in connection with a robbery during the summer, but he was not found there.
Authorities said the motive for the attack was not known, but the U.S.-based Site intelligence group, which monitors jihadist websites, said Islamic State supporters were celebrating.
The prefect of the Strasbourg region said the gunman had previously been flagged as a suspected extremist. French prosecutors said a terror investigation has been opened into the incident.
Strasbourg is home to the European Parliament, which is currently hosting a meeting of European leaders.
French politician Emmanuel Maurel, a member of the European Parliament, said he heard the gunshots from his hotel room.
“From my hotel window I saw passers-by dragging someone who was injured and onlookers panicking,” he tweeted. “Soldiers and police have cordoned off the area. We’re being told to stay in the hotel.”
A spokesperson for the parliament confirmed the building was locked down as the situation unfolded.
The president of the European Parliament said however that legislative sessions would continue for the remainder of the week.
WATCH: Gunman kills at least 2, wounds 12 in French Christmas market
Christmas markets, a popular European tradition, have become targets for violence in recent years. In 2016, an attack on Berlin’s Christmas market killed 12 after a man drove a truck through the crowd.
That attack prompted increased security at similar markets and events in Europe and beyond, including at Toronto’s Christmas market and Ottawa’s Parliament Hill festivities.
Canadians travelling in France are urged to exercise a “high degree of caution” in the country, due to the “elevated threat of terrorism.”
France has been on high alert after devastating large-scale attacks in recent years.
Some 26,000 individuals suspected of posing a security risk to France are on the “S File” watchlist, of whom about 10,000 are believed to have been radicalized, sometimes in fundamentalist Salafist Muslim mosques, online or abroad.
WATCH: Shooting near Strasbourg Christmas market in France leaves at least 2 dead, more injured
— With files from Reuters
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