A gunman is reportedly on the run in Strasbourg after shooting two people dead and injuring at least 11 others in a terrorist attack near the city’s celebrated Christmas market.
The gunman is on the run. France’s interior minister, Christophe Castaner, said the gunman “has been identified” and was known to police who were searching for him.
Police in Strasbourg, France, reported that this lone gunman struck in different places around the city center just before 8 pm where the city’s Christmas market is located and attracts millions of tourists every year.
Witnesses said he had fired a first series of rounds near the market around 8 pm then a second round a few meters further on.
“There were gunshots and people running everywhere,” one local shopkeeper told BFM TV. “It lasted about 10 minutes.”
Two of the injured were said to be in a critical condition.
The public prosecutor declared the incident to be “terrorism” and announced an inquiry had been opened into “assassination and attempted assassination.”
The center of Strasbourg went into lockdown as police asked residents to stay home and restaurants were ordered to close and not let customers leave. The European Parliament, which is currently sitting in Strasbourg, was also put on lockdown, and the parliament’s safety awareness division sent a message to MEPs advising those dining in the city center to “please stay inside and don’t go out.”
“[A] decision has been taken, as a precautionary measure, to close the European Parliament building in Strasbourg. We ask you to stay calm and safe within [European parliament] premises,” it read.
Several MEPs in city center restaurants reported hearing gunfire. The Yorkshire and Humber MEP Richard Corbett tweeted that he was dining in the city “where shots (were) fired”. The restaurant was “not letting anyone in or out”, he added.
The local prefecture tweeted that people should avoid the area near the city’s police headquarters.
Earlier the prefecture tweeted: “Incident happening in Strasbourg, do not relay false rumours.”
France remains on high alert after suffering a wave of attacks commissioned or inspired by Islamic State militants in 2015 and 2016, which killed more than 200 people.
Strasbourg’s Christmas Market, which started in 1570, is one of France’s most popular seasonal events. The “Grande Ile” where the market is held is surrounded by water, on one side the main channel of the River Ill and the other by the Canal du Faux-Rempart, is only accessible by bridges. Since the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015, the event has been held under high security. Access to the area is controlled and visitors bags search. Vehicles are banned from the area.
In 2016, a truck was deliberately driven into the Christmas market in Berlin killing 12 people and injuring 56 others. The perpetrator Anis Amri, a Tunisian who had failed to gain asylum in Germany, was killed four days later in a shootout with police near Milan in Italy.
French President Emmanuel Macron, currently struggling to contain four weeks of civil unrest from the gilets jaunes movement, cut short a ministerial meeting on Monday evening.
Castaner left immediately for Strasbourg. “Our security and rescue services are mobilized,” Castaner said.