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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 January 2019

Strasbourg suspect Cherif Chekatt was a violent criminal on terror watchlist

29-year-old lived in a ramshackle housing block and has convictions in several European countries after life of crime

Cherif Chekatt, the 29-year-old man sought by police over a shooting in Strasbourg lived in a small apartment in a ramshackle housing block and has convictions in France and several European countries after a life of crime, officials say.

Chekatt lived in the Poteries area of Strasbourg about a 20-minute tram ride west of the centre of the French city and its Christmas market where the attack struck.

“It’s a building for desperate people. No one wants to live there,” one local, Bemba N’diaye, 37, told an AFP reporter near the nine-storey concrete bloc where Chekatt’s name is on a letterbox.

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“People there are very isolated,” Mr N’diaye said.

Others said the man was known in the area owing to his criminal record, but he kept a low profile, only venturing downstairs for a coffee and baguette.

“His family has lived around here for a while, but he lived on his own nearby,” Zach, a 22-year-old, said. “He was discreet, not a thug.”

The suspected gunman has been sentenced 27 times, mostly in France where he was born, but also in Germany, Switzerland as well as Luxembourg which are easily reached from Strasbourg.

His crimes range from violence to robbery, but not terrorism.

Chekatt was added to a watchlist of possible extremists while in prison in France in 2015 after he “called for practising a radical form of religion,” French deputy interior minister Laurent Nunez said on Wednesday.

He has since been monitored by France’s domestic intelligence agency, the DGSI, which is occupied monitoring a large number of suspected extremists in France.

Some 25,000 people are currently on the “S” extremism watchlist, 9,700 of them for radicalism “linked mainly to Islamist terror movements,” according to the interior ministry.

Meanwhile police continued to search through eastern France on Wednesday for Chekatt.

Police issued a wanted poster for him and an investigation had been opened into alleged murder with terrorist intent and suspected ties to terrorist networks with intent to commit crimes.

France raised its security threat to the highest alert level, strengthening controls on its border with Germany as elite commandos backed by helicopters hunted for the suspect.

French and German agents checked vehicles and public transport crossing the Rhine river, along which the Franco-German frontier runs, backing up traffic in both directions. Hundreds of French troops and police were taking part in the manhunt.

Prime minister Edouard Philippe said an additional 1,800 soldiers would be put on anti-terror security patrols with a special focus on Christmas markets.

At the Europa Bridge, the main border crossing in the region used by commuters travelling in both directions between France and Germany, armed police inspected vehicles. Police were also checking pedestrians and trains arriving in Germany from Strasbourg.

Updated: December 13, 2018 02:12 AM

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