France dismisses Daesh claim for Strasbourg Christmas bloodshed

Published 15.12.2018 02:00
Updated 15.12.2018 09:54

France's interior minister on Friday dismissed a claim by Daesh terrorist group that it was responsible for a shooting spree at a Christmas market in Strasbourg after the gunman was shot dead by police, ending a 48-hour manhunt.The city reopened the market on Friday, with officials praising the massive public help and quick police reaction that led to the death of suspected shooter Cherif Chekatt late on Thursday. Around 800 people had called in tips to a hotline after the authorities released his name and photo Wednesday night, including two which France's anti-terror prosecutor Remy Heitz called "decisive" in finding Chekatt. The information allowed police to home in on an area in the Neudorf neighborhood, where he tried to escape into a building after being spotted by a patrol. Unable to get in the door, he turned and shot at the three officers with a handgun when they tried to approach, two of whom returned fire and killed him, Heitz said at a press conference in Strasbourg.

Two more people were detained for questioning overnight, bringing to seven the number in custody, including Chekatt's parents and two brothers, Heitz said. Police are now focusing their investigation on whether Chekatt had any help in carrying out his attack or while on the run, he added.

The lights on the market's towering Christmas tree were illuminated Friday for the first time since the attack, as Interior Minister Christophe Castaner visited with stall owners and the hundreds of security forces members on site. He dismissed as "completely opportunistic" a Twitter post by Daesh propaganda wing which claimed Chekatt, a career criminal with 27 convictions in four countries, was one of its "soldiers." "We're dealing with a man who was consumed by evil," Castaner said.

Questions remain over how Chekatt was able to evade the tight security perimeter set up around the Strasbourg Christmas market which has long been a prime target for militant groups. Around 500 police, security agents and soldiers control access at checkpoints on the bridges leading to the river island, a U.N. World Heritage site that houses the market.

The goal is to "create a bubble with searches at the entry points," Mayor Roland Ries said after the attack, while regional government representative Jean-Luc Marx said he had not determined "any flaws in the security measures."

Many residents, however, were not convinced after Chekatt managed to slip through the controls with a handgun and a knife which he used to kill three people and injure 13. "It doesn't surprise me," said Emeline, 38, who works in the city center. "You wear a heavy coat, put something in the bottom of your bag. You can bring in what you want."

Defense Minister Florence Parly rejected criticism that Chekatt's presence on the country's so-called "S file" should have prompted a more proactive reaction from the authorities. "You can't... arrest someone just because you think he might do something," Parly told Radio Classique on Friday.

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