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French police kill suspect in Strasbourg market shooting

Police have killed the suspected gunman, Cherif Chekatt, who was the subject of a two-day manhunt after a shooting that killed at least three people near a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, on Tuesday, according to France's interior minister.

Main suspect Cherif Chekatt had been on watch list as potential security threat

French police officers and forensics search for evidence near the place where Cherif Chekatt was shot. (Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty Images)

Police have killed the suspected gunman, Cherif Chekatt, who was the subject of a two-day manhunt after a shooting that killed at least three people near a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, on Tuesday, according to France's interior minister.

Christophe Castaner said police went to the neighbourhood where Chekatt had last been seen. He said around 9 p.m. local time, three members of the national police force came upon the suspect. As they went to arrest him, the suspect turned to fire on the officers. The police returned fire, killing him. 

Minutes before the police shooting, a witness reported hearing helicopters hovering near the Meinau and Neudorf districts of Strasbourg about two kilometres from where he launched his attack on Tuesday.

French special police forces secure an area during a police operation in the Meinau district after the deadly shooting in Strasbourg. (Vincent Kessler/Reuters)

Earlier on Thursday, officials announced the death toll in the Christmas market attack rose to three.

Chekatt was on a watch list as a potential security threat. Authorities say the 29-year-old was known to have developed radical religious views while in jail.

The initial Christmas market shooting happened Tuesday evening local time. There were reports police officers had twice cornered the shooter and exchanged gunfire, but he managed to escape.

That set off a massive 48-hour manhunt in Strasbourg, which lies on the west bank of the Rhine, and the surrounding region.

In all, five people were arrested and placed in custody in connection with the investigation into Tuesday's shooting, including Chekatt's parents and two of his brothers.

France raised its three-stage threat index to the highest level since the attack and deployed 1,800 additional soldiers across the country to help patrol streets and secure crowded events.

French authorities said Chekatt, born in Strasbourg, appeared on a watch list of people flagged for extremist views. They said he had 27 criminal convictions, receiving the first at age 13.

The people who died in the attack included a Thai tourist, 45-year-old Anupong Suebsamarn, according to the Thai Foreign Ministry. Five of the wounded were in serious condition, the prefecture of the Strasbourg region said.

French President Emmanuel Macron was in Brussels on Thursday for a European Union summit. EU leaders held a minute of silence for the latest victims of a mass shooting in France.

People cry as they light candles in tribute to the victims of the deadly shooting in Strasbourg. (Christian Hartmann/Reuters)

Market to re-open

Strasbourg's usually busy streets were eerily empty Thursday morning, with a heavy police and military presence. Some lit candles and brought flowers to a makeshift memorial at the site of the attack.

"You can feel a very heavy atmosphere due all these events," said resident Lucille Romance. "People are in a state of shock and are avoiding getting out of their house."

The Christmas market, closed since the shooting, will re-open Friday morning, according to Strasbourg's mayor. 

Trying times for Macron

The attack took place at a testing time for President Emmanuel Macron, who on Monday announced tax concessions to quell a month-long public revolt over living costs that spurred the worst unrest in central Paris since the 1968 student riots.

The last three consecutive Saturdays of riots in the capital have seen cars torched, shops looted and the Arc de Triomphe defaced.

"We're simply saying at this stage that, given the events that are unfolding after the terrorist attack in Strasbourg, it would be preferable if everyone could go about a Saturday before the festive holidays in a quiet way," French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said.

Police officers patrol in the Christmas market of Bordeaux, southwestern France. Security was stepped up at Christmas markets across the country following Tuesday's shooting in Strasbourg. (Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images)

With files from The Associated Press and Reuters