Deadly shooting in French city of Strasbourg

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Strasbourg police hunt shooter
Strasbourg police hunt shooter

A gunman opened fire in the Christmas market in central Strasbourg on Tuesday evening, killing two people and wounding 11 others.

Shots fired near Christmas market in city that hosts European Parliament.

The individual opened fire around 8 p.m. local time, local authorities said in a statement. “The provisional casualty toll is 13 victims — two dead, seven seriously injured, and four slightly injured.”

Shots fired near Christmas market in city that hosts European Parliament.

The statement said the gunman was known to the security services and “is being actively sought.”

In a video posted on Twitter, Tajani said the attack had taken place about 3 kilometers from the Parliament.

“The police is investigating, we’ll see if it has to do with terrorism — probably yes,” he said.

The shooter, who was known to police, was injured by military gunfire before he ran away. Authorities have identified and are searching for him.

He was on France’s “fiche S” watch list for individuals considered to be a serious threat to national security, said to AFP citing the prefecture.

There has been an “exchange of shots in the area where the attacker was reportedly holed up”, the news agency quoted police as saying.

“I saw shots land in a wall 10 metres in front of me and started to run with those around me in the opposite direction,” Stephan, a witness told Euronews.

“I live just next to the spot and there were lots of tourists around, so I opened my doors and let people inside,” he added.

The counter-terrorism prosecutor has opened an investigation into the attack, the prosecutor’s office said.

“Shooting in the centre of Strasbourg. Everyone should stay at home and wait for clarification of the situation,” Strasbourg’s deputy mayor, Alain Fontanel, wrote on Twitter.

Shortly afterwards, he told MEPs in the Parliament’s main chamber that the legislature would continue its session. “We’re not going to be intimidated, we’re going to continue our work,” he declared.

Carlos Iturgaiz, a Spanish member of the Parliament, tweeted from the city center that police would not let people go out into the streets. “In the center, it looks like a ghost town. The businesses were cleared out without being able to close their doors. There were thousands of people at the Christmas market and in the area. Chaos.”

Several lawmakers tweeted that police will not let them out of the European Parliament building.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said his thoughts were with the victims of the shooting, which he condemned in the strongest terms.

“Strasbourg as a city is a symbol of European peace and democracy above all others,” Juncker said. “Those are values we will always defend.”

What is France’s ‘fiche S’ terror watch list?

The perpetrators of a number of terrorist attacks in France over recent years have been revealed to have been known to police and often designated as “fiché S”.

But what exactly is the list, and why has it come under fire?

What is the list?

Some 20,000 people are categorised as “fiché S” in France, of whom around 4,000 are considered dangerous.

The list covers a wide range of individuals it is thought could pose a security risk: from those suspected of plotting terrorist acts to political protesters considered to be violent.

Others may have aroused suspicion of radicalisation because they no longer shake hands with women at work, or for assiduously watching Islamist propaganda online.

Why has it come under fire?

Critics say that the list doesn’t do enough to stop terrorism.

In May, when police revealed that the perpetrator of a knife attack in Paris had been on the list, the political right accused President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government of being too lax in the face of repeated attacks.

“What purpose can this ‘fiche S’ serve if we don’t stop these time bombs from causing damage on French soil?” asked National Front leader Marine Le Pen on Twitter.

Laurent Wauquiez, leader of the centre-right Republicans, denounced official “blindness and inaction”. He called on Macron and his government to bring in measures allowing for the possible internment of individuals considered the most danger

Why aren’t people on the list already detained?

To counter their critics, the previous French government under President François Hollande put the question of possible internment to the test — and the country’s top court ruled it out.

“On a constitutional and conventional basis, it is not possible for the law, outside any penal procedure, to authorise the retention of radicalised people in centres designed for that effect,” the Council of State ruled.

The simple fact of being on the “fiche S” list provides no grounds for arrest or deportation.

The prime minister at the time, Manuel Valls, said there was no question of creating a “French Guantanamo”.

Even if France were to change its Constitution to allow internment, human rights campaigners believe such a move would put it in conflict with the European Court of Human Rights.

What do supporters of the system say?

Supporters of the “fiche S” system highlight its value in terms of intelligence. Some argue that to place suspects in detention would be counterproductive, as this would prevent investigators from tracking terrorist networks. Far better, they argue, is to keep them at large in order to monitor their activities.

Identity checks and border controls help the movements of people on the list to be registered. However, resources and practical considerations rule out systematic surveillance.

French police argue that the system is efficient, despite the occurrence of attacks committed by “fiche S” suspects. By not arresting people as soon as they are considered suspects, the authorities are able to dismantle networks and foil terrorist plots.

According to the French Centre for the Analysis of Terrorism, 60% of those who have carried out the wave of attacks to hit the country since 2014 were not on any list.

“Zero risk does not exist and those who claim that measures pulled out of a hat would be enough to solve the problem, they’re lying,” said French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux.