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TERRORISM

Strasbourg suspect: a violent criminal on terror watchlist

The 29-year-old man being sought by police over a shooting in Strasbourg lived in a small apartment in a ramshackle housing bloc and has convictions in France, Switzerland and Germany after a life of crime.

Strasbourg suspect: a violent criminal on terror watchlist
On Wednesday, onlookers laid candles for the victims of the attack in Strasbourg. Photo: DPA

The man, identified as Cherif C. by French authorities who have not given his full name, 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.

“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 Cherif's name is on a letterbox.

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

Others said the man was known in the area owing to his criminal record, but he kept a low profile.

“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 undated photo, provided by the French police, shows Cherif C., who police are searching for in connection with the the Christmas market in Strasbourg. Photo: DPA

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

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

Cherif 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 highly stretched due to the 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.

“He is an individual who has unfortunately been known for a very long time for crime,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told French MPs on Wednesday.

“From the age of 10, his behaviour was already criminal. He had his first sentence at 13 years old,” Castaner said.

On his identity card, seen by an AFP reporter, the suspect has dark eyes, black hair and a short beard.

Cross-border crime 

Police had tried to detain Cherif on Tuesday morning in connection with an attempted murder enquiry, but he was not at home, Nunez told France Inter radio on Wednesday.

A grenade, four knives and a rifle were found during a search of his apartment, prosecutors have said.

He is “known for a number of criminal offences (…) but has never been linked to terrorist offences,” Nunez added. 

On Wednesday onlookers placed candles and messages near the scene of the crimes in Strasbourg, as the hunt for the perpetrator continued. 

German authorities were on the lookout for the fugitive on Wednesday “along the Rhine” river which serves as the border between France and Germany, a spokesman from the Baden-Wuerttemberg region said.

“But at the moment we do not believe that he has crossed into the country,” he added.

According to Germany's Tagesspiegel newspaper, Cherif broke into a dentist practice in Mainz, Rhineland Palatinate state, in 2012, making away with cash, stamps and gold used for teeth fillings.

Four years later, he targeted a pharmacy in the Lake Constance town of Engen, Baden-Wuerttemberg, pocketing cash. He served a year behind bars in 2016 before being expelled back to France.

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TERRORISM

Anti-Semitism ‘massive problem’ in Germany, says Jewish leader on terror attack anniversary

On the second anniversary of a far-right terror attack at a German synagogue, the German Jewish Council has warned that the government needs to make more efforts to stop the spread of anti-Semitism online.

Anti-Semitism 'massive problem' in Germany, says Jewish leader on terror attack anniversary
A star of David on the roof of the Halle synagogue. Photo: dpa-Zentralbild | Hendrik Schmidt

Two years after a terrorist attack in the east German town of Halle that left two people dead, Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews, said that more needed to be done in the fight against anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism.

“The spread and incitement of hate, for example in the form of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories via social media, is a massive problem,” Schuster told DPA.

On October 9th 2019, a heavily armed right-wing extremist called Stephan Balliet tried to enter the Halle city synagogue on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

When he failed to do so, he shot a 40-year-old passerby. He later killed a 20-year-old man at a kebab shop. While trying to escape, the 28-year-old injured several people before he was caught by the police.

The city of Halle is commemorating the event on Saturday, with wreaths to be laid at the scene of the crime. Reiner Haseloff, state leader of Saxony-Anhalt, is expected to attend.

Balliet was sentenced to life in prison in 2020 by the Naumburg Higher Regional Court. His sentence will be followed by preventive detention.

Funs for synagogue security

While praising the German government for introducing a law that makes social media companies responsible for hateful content posted on their sites, Schuster said that the legislation needed to be extended to messenger services such as Telegram.

“We must do everything we can to ensure that the internet is not a lawless space,” he said.

According to Schuster, the German government reacted quickly after the Halle attack by providing money to improve security at Jewish institutions.

This was an important step, he said. “However, there is still much to be done at the political and social level to combat growing anti-Semitism.”

SEE ALSO: Four held over foiled ‘Islamist’ attack on German synagogue

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