The man suspected of killing at least three people and wounding 13 others at Strasbourg’s famed Christmas market has been killed by French police, following a shoot-out not far from the scene of Tuesday’s attack.
Cherif Chekatt, 29, was shot dead on Thursday evening, two days after he first disappeared sparking a massive manhunt involving hundreds of police officers, soldiers and anti-terror specialists from three European countries.
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said police recognized a man who looked like Chekatt walking on the street in Strasbourg’s Neudorf district on Thursday night and approached him. He opened fire on officers when they tried to question him, he said.
Police returned fire, killing the suspect, Castaner said.
“As I am speaking to you, I am thinking about the victims and the wounded. I am thinking of those close to them. I am thinking of Strasbourg and France that was hit by this terrible attack,” Castaner said.
On Thursday, Strasbourg police said the death toll from the attack had risen to three, after one person succumbed to their injuries. Five people remain in serious condition with eight others suffering light injures.
The hunt prompted a curfew in the eastern French city near the German border and forced the country to raise its national security threat level to its highest status: “emergency terror attack.”
French prosecutors said the suspect shouted the Arabic phrase “Allahu Akbar,” meaning “God is greatest,” at the time of the attack.
“It’s relief for the people of Strasbourg to know that the attacker has been killed,” Strasbourg Mayor Roland Ries said, adding that the Christmas market would reopen on Friday.
The French National Police thanked the public for their assistance in finding Chekatt.
“Thank you for your alerts which allowed us to find the wanted individual,” the National Police said on Twitter.
Earlier on Thursday, Paris prosecutor’s office said that a fifth person was taken into custody in relation to the attack. “At this stage there are five people in custody,” a spokesperson said.
Authorities said Chekatt entered the perimeter of the market, one of the oldest in Europe, by the city’s Corbeau Bridge and started shooting and stabbing passers-by on the Rue des Orfevres around 8 p.m., when many were in the middle of their Christmas shopping.
Anti-terror police flooded the market and tried to arrest the suspected gunman. He exchanged fire with security forces, suffering an injury to his arm. The suspected gunman then jumped into a taxi and fled the scene, Heitz said.
On Thursday, French police evacuated buildings and cordoned off the area close to where Chekatt had fled. The gunman’s father, mother and two brothers were also questioned by police, a source close to the investigation told CNN.
Chekatt was already known to security services as a possible threat, police said. He has an extensive criminal background that includes 27 convictions in France, Germany and Switzerland, mostly for acts of robbery and violence.
A spokeswoman for the Swiss Federal Police, Cathy Maret, told CNN that Chekatt was well known to authorities there, having been arrested and convicted several times in Switzerland for crimes such as break-ins, theft and violence. He was not on their radar as a radical Islamist or for narcotics violations, she said.
In 2017, he was deported from Germany to France after the Interior Ministry in the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg confirmed he had been convicted of break-ins and serious theft in 2016 and spent time in a German prison. The German Federal Criminal Office said the suspect was not known in Germany as a radical Islamist.
However, Chekatt was known to French prison officials for being radicalized and for his proselytizing behavior in detention in 2015, Paris prosecutor Heitz said, adding that he had been incarcerated multiple times.
He was also on a French watch list called a “Fiche S” surveillance file. The “Fiche S” is a French terror and radicalization watch list that includes thousands of people, some of whom are under active surveillance, meaning they are on law enforcement’s radar.
Hours before the attack, French gendarmes tried to bring Chekatt in for questioning but found he wasn’t home, a spokesperson for France’s National Police told CNN earlier this week, without providing further details.
Chekatt was born in Strasbourg, according to CNN affiliate BFM.