At least two dead, 11 wounded in French Christmas market shooting

STRASBOURG, France, Dec 11 (Reuters) - A lone gunman shot dead at least two people and wounded 11 others near a Christmas market in the city of Strasbourg on Tuesday evening before fleeing, police said.

The motive was not immediately clear but, with France still on high alert after a wave of attacks commissioned or inspired by Islamic State militants since early 2015, the counter-terrorism prosecutor opened an investigation.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the gunman was known to security services, and the local prefecture said he had previously been identified as a danger to security.

People in the city's Neudorf area and Etoile park were told to stay where they were as officers hunted the shooter on the ground and from the air.

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Deadly shooting at French Christmas market
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Deadly shooting at French Christmas market
In this image made from video, emergency services arrive on the scene of a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. A French regional official says that a shooting in Strasbourg has left at least one dead and several wounded in the city center near a world-famous Christmas market. The prefect of France's Bas-Rhin region says the gunman, who is still at large, has been identified. Authorities haven't given a motive for the shooting. (AP Photo)
Tis picture taken with a mobile phone shows rescuers treating an injured person in the streets of Strasbourg, eastern France, after a shooting breakout, on December 11, 2018. - Two persons has been killed and 11 people injured in a shooting today near a Christmas market in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, police said, adding that the suspected gunman was on the run. (Photo by François D'ASTIER / AFP) (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS D'ASTIER/AFP/Getty Images)
Police, firefighters and emergency services intervene on Place Gutenberg after a shooting on December 11, 2018 in Strasbourg, eastern France. - At least two people have been killed and 11 critically wounded in a shooting in the French city of Strasbourg, police said, updating the number of victims. (Photo by Patrick HERTZOG / AFP) (Photo credit should read PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images)
In this image made from video provided by CMM, people lay on the ground after a shooting at a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. A French regional official says that a shooting in Strasbourg has left at least one dead and several wounded in the city center near a world-famous Christmas market. The prefect of France's Bas-Rhin region says the gunman, who is still at large, has been identified. Authorities haven't given a motive for the shooting. (CMM via AP)
Police secure a street and the surrounding area after a shooting in Strasbourg, France, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
Ambulance is seen at the scene of shooting in Strasbourg, France, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
Police officer secures a street and the surrounding area after a shooting in Strasbourg, France, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
Police secure a street and the surrounding area after a shooting in Strasbourg, France, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
Police secure a street and the surrounding area after a shooting in Strasbourg, France, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
Police officers secure a street and the surrounding area after a shooting in Strasbourg, France, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
Police secure a street and the surrounding area after a shooting in Strasbourg, France, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
Soldiers secure area where a suspect is sought after a shooting in Strasbourg, France, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
Police officer secures a street and the surrounding area after a shooting in Strasbourg, France, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
Police officer secures a street and the surrounding area after a shooting in Strasbourg, France, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
Police secure a street and the surrounding area after a shooting in Strasbourg, France, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
Rescue teams work at the scene of shooting in Strasbourg, France, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
Police, firefighters and emergency services intervene on Place Gutenberg, near the Strasbourg Cathedral (in the background) after a shooting on December 11, 2018 in Strasbourg, eastern France. - At least two people have been killed and 11 critically wounded in a shooting in the French city of Strasbourg, police said, updating the number of victims. (Photo by Patrick HERTZOG / AFP) (Photo credit should read PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images)
A military stands in the streets of Strasbourg, eastern France, after a shooting breakout, on December 11, 2018. - Two persons has been killed and 11 people injured in a shooting today near a Christmas market in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, police said, adding that the suspected gunman was on the run. (Photo by Frederick FLORIN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Policemen walk in the streets of Strasbourg, eastern France, after a shooting breakout, on December 11, 2018. - At least two people have been killed and 11 critically wounded in a shooting in the French city of Strasbourg, police said, updating the number of victims. (Photo by Frederick FLORIN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Policemen speak with a military in the streets of Strasbourg, eastern France, after a shooting breakout, on December 11, 2018. - At least two people have been killed and 11 critically wounded in a shooting in the French city of Strasbourg, police said, updating the number of victims. (Photo by Frederick FLORIN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Police, firefighters and emergency services intervene on Place Gutenberg after a shooting on December 11, 2018 in Strasbourg, eastern France. - At least two people have been killed and 11 critically wounded in a shooting in the French city of Strasbourg, police said, updating the number of victims. (Photo by Patrick HERTZOG / AFP) (Photo credit should read PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images)
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The European Parliament, which is sitting in Strasbourg this week, was put into lockdown.

"There were gunshots and people running everywhere," one local shopkeeper told BFM TV. "It lasted about 10 minutes."

The Christmas market was being held amid tight security this year, with unauthorized vehicles excluded from surrounding streets during opening hours and checkpoints set up on bridges and access points to search pedestrians' bags.

A source at the prosecutor's office said the motive for the shooting was not immediately clear.

A Reuters reporter was among 30 to 40 people being held in the basement of a supermarket for their own safety in central Strasbourg, waiting for police to clear the area. Lights were switched off and bottles of water handed out.

PRESIDENT INFORMED

President Emmanuel Macron was informed of the shooting and was being updated as events unfurled, an Elysee Palace official said. Castaner was on his way to Strasbourg, which lies on the border with Germany.

A spokesman for the European Parliament said the building had been shut down and staff ordered to stay inside.

"My thoughts are with the victims of the Strasbourg shooting, which I condemn with the utmost firmness," tweeted Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the European Commission, the EU executive. "Strasbourg is an excellent symbol of peace and European Democracy. Values that we will always defend."

European security agencies have feared for some time that Islamist militants who left Europe to fight for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq would return after the jihadist group's defeat, with the skills and motivation to carry out attacks at home.

In 2016, a truck plowed into a Bastille Day crowd in Nice, killing more than 80 people, while in November 2015, coordinated Islamist militant attacks on the Bataclan concert hall and other sites in Paris claimed about 130 lives. There have also been attacks in Paris on a policeman on the Champs-Elysees avenue, the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a kosher store.

Almost exactly two years ago, a Tunisian Islamist rammed a hijacked truck into a Christmas market in central Berlin, killing 11 people as well as the driver.

(Reporting by Gilbert Reilhac in Strasbourg and Christian Hartmann, Emmanuel Jarry, Michel Rose and Inti Landauro in Paris and Kevin Liffey in London; writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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