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People cry as they light candles in tribute to the victims of the deadly shooting in Strasbourg, France on December 13, 2018. Photo by Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Fourth person dies of wounds from French Christmas market attack

STRASBOURG, France — A fourth person died Friday from wounds suffered in an attack on the Christmas market in Strasbourg, as investigators worked to establish whether the main suspect had help while on the run.

The prosecutor’s office announced the death three days after the attack in the eastern French city and a day after the suspected gunman was shot dead by police.

Although they did not entirely clarify their announcement, prosecutors appeared to suggest that the person who died Friday was one of 12 wounded people and not another person who has been described as being brain dead.

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz, who handles terror cases throughout France, told a news conference that seven people are in police custody, including four family members of Cherif Chekatt and two who were detained on Thursday night.

Chekatt, 29, was shot dead Thursday during a police operation in the Neudorf neighborhood of the city.

“We want to reconstruct the past 48 hours in order to find out whether he got some support,” Heitz said.

The Strasbourg shooting was the latest in a series of deadly attacks that have claimed more than 200 lives in France since 2015.

On Friday the Christmas market reopened for the first time since the attack amid tight security. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner attended the reopening and had a stroll to meet with shopkeepers.

Access to the market has been reduced while extra police officers and military have been deployed to the site, in addition to private security guards.

“This Christmas market is part of our history. It’s part of our common events and belongs to all the French people,” Castaner said. “And this morning, we wanted to show, as we walked down the lanes, that we always know how to get our head up again.”

Heitz gave more details about the police operation that led to Chekatt’s death on Thursday evening after a two-day manhunt. He said the suspect was localized after police received two crucial tipoffs from Neudorf residents. Three officers patrolling in Neudorf ultimately spotted a man corresponding to the suspect’s description. He noticed their vehicle and tried unsuccessfully to enter a building. When police officers identified themselves, Chekatt turned around and opened fire.

“A projectile hit the vehicle above the left rear door, two police officers responded, shooting several times, and killed him,” Heitz said.

Investigators found a gun, a knife and ammunition on Chekatt’s body.

The immediate aftermath of the shootout between French security forces and the suspect was caught on camera from across the street, with video footage showing armed officers at the scene and the body of the man slumped in a doorway.

More officers arrive at the scene soon after, followed by crime scene investigators.

The Paris prosecutor’s office formally identified the man as Chekatt, a Strasbourg-born man with a long history of convictions for various crimes, including robberies. Chekatt also had been on a watch list of potential extremists. He had his first conviction at 13, and had 26 more by the time he died at age 29. He served jail time in France, Germany and Switzerland.

Witnesses said the gunman shouted “God is great!” in Arabic and sprayed gunfire from a security zone near the Christmas market on Tuesday. Security forces wounded the man in the arm but he managed to escape in a taxi.

Petrequin reported from Paris. Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed.

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