Strasbourg, France : Cherif Chekatt, the man authorities believe killed three people during a rampage near a Christmas market in Strasbourg died Thursday in a shootout with police at the end of a two-day manhunt, French authorities said.
The Paris prosecutor’s office, which handles terror cases in France, formally identified the man killed in the eastern French city as 29-year-old Cherif Chekatt, a Strasbourg-born man with a long history of convictions for various crimes, including robberies. Chekatt also had been on a watch list of potential extremists.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, speaking earlier from Strasbourg, said police had spotted a man matching the suspect’s description in the city’s Neudorf neighbourhood.
“The moment they tried to arrest him, he turned around and opened fired. They replied,” killing the man, Castaner said.
Chekatt was suspected of killing three people and wounding 13 near Strasbourg’s Christmas market on Tuesday night. Castaner said earlier Thursday that three of the injured had been released from hospital and three others were still fighting for their lives.
“Our engagement against terrorism is total,” French President Emmanuel Macron, who was in Brussels for a European Union summit, said in a tweet thanking security forces.
Five people have been arrested in connection with the investigation, including Chekatt’s parents and two of his brothers. The Paris prosecutor’s office said the fifth, who was arrested Thursday, was a member of Chekatt’s “entourage” but not a family member.
Witnesses said the gunman shouted “God is great!” in Arabic and sprayed gunfire from a security zone near the Christmas market on Tuesday. Security forces wounded the man but he managed to escape in a taxi, which dropped him off in Neudorf.
More than 700 officers searched for Chekatt, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told CNews television. Authorities said Chekatt had 27 criminal convictions, the first one from when he was 13.
A local police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the man who shot at police Thursday night had been armed with a pistol and a knife.
Strasbourg mayor Roland Ries said police had acted on a tip from a woman.
A local resident who witnessed the shootout said he heard shots and rushed to the window to see what was happening. He closed the shutters when he spotted the cornered suspect across the street.
“I was very afraid for my children, I told them to go away, and I went to the side,” Cem Akcakaya told The Associated Press.
After it was over, he said he saw the man motionless on his back on the pavement, his left arm askew.
The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity online, said the Islamic State group’s Amaq news agency was claiming the gunman as a “soldier” of the group, although IS claims of responsibility have often been considered opportunistic.
Security forces, including the elite Raid squad, spent hours searching in the Neudorf neighbourhood where Chekatt had grown up based on “supposition only” he might have been hiding in a building nearby, a French police official said.
France has raised its three-stage threat index to the highest level since the attack and deployed 1,800 additional soldiers across the country to help patrol streets and secure crowded events.
Residents of Strasbourg’s Neudorf neighbourhood expressed relief after Chekatt was killed.
“Everybody’s quite happy that the killer has been finally shot. I think now, the city and life can keep going on in Strasbourg,” resident Pierre Plasse said.
One of the three who died in Tuesday’s attack was a Thai tourist, 45-year-old Anupong Suebsamarn, according to the Thai Foreign Ministry.
Earlier, hundreds of people gathered in Strasbourg’s 500-year-old cathedral to mourn and seek comfort.
“Evil does not prevail,” Archbishop Luc Ravel said. “And the message of Christmas has not been contradicted but rather confirmed by Tuesday’s dramatic night: Evil and good are both there, but in the end the good will have last word.”