By LORI HINNANT and JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press
STRASBOURG, France (AP) — Cherif Chekatt, the alleged extremist on the run after a deadly shooting at France’s most famous Christmas market, had been on police radar and had more than two dozen convictions for crimes like robbery and other violence in three European countries.
Officials released details Wednesday about Chekatt, 29, as police fanned out in a massive manhunt a day after he allegedly shouted “God is Great” in Arabic amid gunfire and shootouts with police in northeastern Strasbourg that left two dead, one person brain dead and 12 others injured.
Police had been trailing Chekatt, a Strasbourg native and one of six siblings who was “well known” to authorities: He had 27 convictions in his criminal record, mostly in France but also in Switzerland and Germany, said Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz. Chekatt was also tracked by the domestic counterintelligence service the DGSI — France’s equivalent of the FBI.
Authorities say he was flagged for radicalism in prison in 2015 and put on the “Fiche S” radical watch list then.
The 2016 court verdict in the southern German city of Singen, obtained by The Associated Press, said he was sentenced to prison in France in 2008 and in Basel, Switzerland, in 2013 for various robberies. News agency dpa reported that he was deported to France in 2017.
The verdict said Chekatt had worked for local authorities after leaving school, and had been unemployed since 2011. He had spent a total of four years in prison. The German robberies took place in Mainz, near Frankfurt, in 2012 and in Engen, near the Swiss border, in 2016.
Police on Wednesday were guarding a building in the outer area of Strasbourg where Chekatt is believed to have lived.
A neighbor, who asked not to be named as the gunman is still at large, said he was rarely home. She said she last saw him Monday from her window, which looks out on a common hallway, and he was with another man.
Young men from the apartment block said they knew him as someone who seemed destabilized by his time in prison. “You can just tell,” said one, lightly touching the side of his head. They, too, feared being publicly named because the gunman is still being hunted by police.
His apartment is in a housing project considered a “sensitive zone” by French police, just 1.8 miles from the Christmas market but seemingly a world away from its glittering boutiques and tidy streets.
Each door in the building is marked with the resident’s name; the suspect’s apartment, on the fifth floor, bears a white paper reading “Chekatt C.” The other names reflected the ethnic mix of the neighborhood: French, German, Russian and Arabic.
The lock was broken and the shutters were closed. Several neighbors said they heard the police break in, but the atmosphere Wednesday was unusually calm after the overnight drama.
Keaten reported from Marrakech, Morocco. Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.