Strasbourg Christmas Market Shooting: Gunman Remains at Large as France Raises Threat Level

The suspect behind a mass shooting in Strasbourg, France, remained at large as the government upped its security risk to the highest level possible and warned of the threat of further violence.

At least two people were killed and 14 wounded when the 29-year-old gunman opened fire on crowds near Strasbourg's Christmas market Tuesday. Authorities initially said the gunman killed three people but later specified that two had died and the third was brain dead. The gunman was wounded in an exchange of fire with a passing army patrol and was believed to have fled in a taxi, ordering the driver to take him out of the city.

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The Strasbourg-born suspect—named by Reuters as Cherif Chekatt—was already known to the country's security services, and just hours before the attack, his home was raided in connection with an armed robbery and attempted murder, The Guardian reported. Explosives were found on the property.

When the gunman opened fire at around 8 p.m., authorities quickly realized it was the same man. Laurent Nuñez, secretary of state for the interior ministry, said it was too early to suggest a motive but said a terrorism investigation had been opened.

Chekatt fired at least three volleys at the market crowds, then engaged in at least two seperate exchanges of fire with patrolling soldiers—put onto the streets as part of a nationwide security operation introduced after a series of terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015.

Nuñez noted the failed arrest may have been one reason for the attack, and noted the attacker had spent time in prison in Germany and France, and was believed to have been religiously radicalized during his time behind bars.

According to The Associated Press, a spokeswoman for Germany's interior ministry, Eleonore Petermann, said Chekatt had been deported to France in 2017, and his freedom of movement in the European Union had been curtailed.

Chekatt was on the national "Fiche S" register, a list of people considered a potential risk to national security, The Guardian reported. Such threats include suspected Islamist extremists, major criminals and political militants.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the suspected attacker was "notorious" and has an extensive criminal record. "Right now, the terrorist motive for this attack has not been established, and I would advise extreme caution over this," the minister explained. "The hunt is taking place and the priority is to find this attacker."

Early Wednesday morning, Castaner announced the government had raised its security level to the highest possible, imposing border controls with neighboring Germany. Officials admitted that Chekatt might already have escaped across the border, the BBC added.

Roughly 350 officers are involved in the search for the gunman. Five people have already been arrested in overnight raids linked to the attacker. Police cut off major roads in and out of Strasbourg overnight in an effort to trap the gunman, who seems to have slipped through.

This article has been updated with revised information from the authorities about the death toll.