Chérif Chekatt, the man suspected of opening fire at Strasbourg’s Christmas market two days ago, was killed in a shootout with French police earlier today.
Shortly after news broke of Chekatt’s death, the Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency issued a short statement (seen above) claiming that the assailant was a “soldier” of the so-called caliphate and “carried out the operation in response to calls for targeting nationals of the coalition countries.”
The message employs language that is identical to that used by Amaq after a series of other small-scale terrorist attacks in Europe and elsewhere. Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, who was killed in 2016, and others have repeatedly called on supporters of the self-declared caliphate to lash out in their home countries in the West.
Thus far, the Islamic State hasn’t provided any corroborating details. The group included a brief reference to the attack in the 160th issue of its Al Naba newsletter, which was released via social media and messaging apps earlier today. However, the entry was not a claim of responsibility and didn’t provide any information concretely linking Chekatt to the organization.
It is possible that Chekatt contacted the jihadists online, or had some other ties to the group. But that has not been confirmed, as investigators are still piecing together his contacts.
The French government had placed Chekatt, who was born in Strasbourg, on its Fichés S list, which includes individuals suspected of posing a serious security threat. According to the Guardian (UK), Chekatt had an extensive criminal background, compiling an arrest record that spanned three countries: France, Germany and Switzerland. According to another report in the Guardian, French authorities have said Chekatt adopted jihadist beliefs while he was imprisoned.
Terrorists have targeted Strasbourg and European Christmas markets in the past. In Dec. 2000, authorities broke up an al Qaeda-linked plot that was intended to hit the Strasbourg Christmas market outside of the city’s cathedral.
On Dec. 19, 2016, a Tunisian Islamic State loyalist drove a lorry into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin.
It is not clear if Chekatt planned to murder civilians at Strasbourg’s Christmas market, or if it became an opportunistic target. Authorities were reportedly preparing to arrest Chekatt shortly before he attacked.
At least three people died and several more were wounded as a result of his rampage. Chekatt reportedly shouted “Allahu Akbar!” as he struck. In addition to using a firearm, he also stabbed some of his victims.
The Islamic State’s men have plotted a string of attacks inside France. The largest came in Paris in Nov. 2015, when a team of jihadists dispatched from Iraq and Syria hit sites throughout the city with suicide bombs and small arms.
Other plots have involved lone terrorists, or small cells. In May, for instance, a young man slashed at several people in Paris. Amaq subsequently released a video of the masked knifeman swearing allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before his day of terror. This is one method the Islamic State has used to verify its ties to a terrorist after the fact.
For a list of other Islamic State-connected or claimed attacks in France, see FDD’s Long War Journal reports, Paris knife terrorist swore allegiance to ISIS leader before attack and Islamic State claims its ‘soldier’ took hostages in southern France.