PARIS (AP) — The bustle of holiday shopping gave way to a lockdown in the French city of Strasbourg on Tuesday after a gunman killed at least three people and wounded a dozen others in a suspected terrorist attack, according to police.
Prosecutors say the shooter has been identified but remains at large after authorities went to his house and failed to find him. The 29-year-old suspect has a criminal record and has been linked to radicalism. FGP Police union official Stephane Morisse said officers found explosive materials at the home.
Morisse said the suspect was shot and wounded by soldiers standing guard over the Christmas market, but he was still able to escape.
The evening attack happened at the city’s world-famous Christmas market. France, where most of Europe's worst terror attacks of recent years took place, is raising its terror alert level and sending security reinforcements to Strasbourg, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said.
Some 350 security forces and two helicopters were involved in the search for the assailant, who had been radicalized for "several years" and confronted law enforcement officers twice while he "sowed terror" in Strasbourg, Castaner said.
The death toll stood at three early Wednesday, he said. Two police union officials said earlier there were four victims. Officials did not explain the conflicting numbers.
A dozen more people were wounded, half of them who were in "absolute emergency" critical condition, Castaner said.
French military spokesman Col. Patrik Steiger said the shooter didn't seem to be aiming for the soldiers patrolling in and around the market, but appeared to target civilians instead.
It’s unclear if the market — which was the nucleus of an al-Qaida plot in 2000 — was targeted. The city is also home to the European Parliament, which was locked down after the shooting. So were other parts of the city.
French interior minister Christophe Castaner and Paris prosecutor Francois Molins, who oversees anti-terror probes in France, headed to Strasbourg. The prosecutor's office said the investigation is for murder and attempted murder in relation with a terrorist enterprise.
Strasbourg Mayor Roland Ries told BFM television the gunman got inside a security zone to stage the attack.
In a Facebook post, Ries said the market would be closed Wednesday, and he lamented that a “catastrophe” occurred despite what he called “draconian security measures” around the market since the terrorist attacks in Paris three years ago.
Witnesses in central Strasbourg described hearing gunshots and screaming in a street near the market. Resident Yoann Bazard said he heard two or three shots followed by screams, then looked out his window and saw people running.
“There were two or three episodes like that,’’ Bazard, 27, said by phone. “As it got close, it was really shocking. There were a lot of screams.”
Freelance journalist Camille Belsoeur said he was at a friend’s apartment on the same street and at first mistook the gunfire for firecrackers.
“We opened the window,’’ Belsoeur said. “I saw a soldier firing shots, about 12 to 15 shots.”
He added that other soldiers yelled for people to stay indoors and told those outside to go home.
Another witness, Peter Fritz, told the BBC one of the victims was a Thai tourist who had a head injury and didn’t respond to efforts to revive him.
“We tried our best to resuscitate him,’’ Fritz said. “We applied CPR. We dragged him into a restaurant close by.’’
Fritz said the man was in his 30s and his wife appeared to be unharmed but in shock.
European Parliament president Antonio Tajani said the legislative sessions will continue for the rest of the week, adding that the legislature “will not be intimidated by terrorist or criminal attacks. Let us move on.’’
The attack came as France has been beset by four weeks of protests against President Emmanuel Macron, and police forces have been stretched by fighting, rioting and other protest-related unrest.
Macron adjourned a meeting at the presidential palace on Tuesday night to monitor the events, his office said.
Contributing: The Associated Press