IS calls Christmas market gunman its soldier

Friday, December 14, 2018

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STRASBOURG, France (AP) — The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity online, says the Islamic State group's Amaq news agency is claiming the gunman who opened fire near a Christmas market in Strasbourg as a “soldier” of the group.

The claim was published shortly after news emerged of a shootout with French police in Strasbourg last night in which a man believed to be the suspect was killed. IS claims of responsibility have often been considered opportunistic in the past.

French police had been searching for 29-year-old Charif Chekatt, the suspected shooter during the Tuesday night that killed three people and wounded 13.

Chekatt has been the focus of a massive manhunt since Tuesday's attack.

France's Interior Minister Christophe Castaner says the moment police tried to arrest the man they spotted in the Neudorf neighbourhood, he started shooting. The minister says police returned fire, killing the man.

Authorities say Chekatt was born in Strasbourg and appeared on a watch list of potential extremists.

A local police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the operation was ongoing, said the man who opened fire was armed with a pistol and a knife.

The Paris prosecutor's office says a fifth individual has been arrested and placed in custody in connection with the investigation into Tuesday's shooting near Strasbourg's Christmas market. The office said the man is a member of Chekatt's “entourage”, but not a family member. He was placed in custody yesterday morning. The four others detained were Chekatt's parents and two of his brothers.

Authorities said a taxi driver dropped Chekatt off in the Neudorf neighborhood, south of the eastern French city's centre, Tuesday evening after the shooting.

More than 700 officers were involved in Thursday's manhunt for Chekatt, who had a long criminal record and had been flagged for extremism, Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told CNews television.

Asked about instructions given to police forces, Griveaux said the focus was on catching the suspect “as soon as possible”, no matter whether he was dead or alive, and “put an end to the manhunt”.

Chekatt allegedly shouted “God is great!” in Arabic and sprayed gunfire during Tuesday's rampage. The city in eastern France has been mourning, placing flowers and lit candles at the site of the attack.

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