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Strasbourg suspect: a violent criminal with extremist views

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Strasbourg (France) (AFP)

The 29-year-old man being sought by police over a mass shooting in Strasbourg lived in a small apartment in a rundown housing bloc and has spent time in prison in France and Germany.

The man, who has not been named by French authorities, lived in the Poteries area of Strasbourg about a 20-minute tram ride from the centre of the French city and its Christmas market, which he was suspected of attacking on Tuesday night.

"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 in the Hohberg district where the suspect lived.

"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 suspected gunman has been sentenced 27 times in France, Germany and Switzerland, mostly for violence and robbery, prosecutor Remy Heitz said at a press conference.

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

He is "known for a number of criminal offences (...) but has never been linked to terrorist offences," French deputy interior minister Laurent Nunez told France Inter radio on Wednesday.

The man was added to watchlist of possible extremists while in prison in France in 2015 after he "called for practising a radical form of religion," Nunez said.

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.

In 2016, the suspected shooter was jailed in Germany for robberies in the city of Mainz and the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg before being expelled back to France after serving a year behind bars.

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.

The lone gunman, armed with an handgun and a knife, shot and stabbed passers-by at the traditional Christmas market on Tuesday evening.

He killed three people and wounded 13, eight seriously, before fleeing in a taxi, prosecutor Heitz said.

Police had sought to detain him up Tuesday morning in connection with an attempted murder enquiry, but he was not at home, Nunez said.

A grenade, four knives and a pistol were found at his home, police said.

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