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Strasbourg shooting toll rises to four dead, several critically wounded: police

FILE: Police officers patrols the Christmas market in Strasbourg, eastern France, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016, the day after a truck ran into a crowded Christmas market and killing people Monday evening in Berlin, Germany.
(AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

At least four people have been killed and several others injured in a shooting on Tuesday near a Christmas market in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, police said, adding that the suspected gunman was on the run.

"Serious public security event under way in Strasbourg. Residents are asked to stay at home," the French interior ministry said in a tweet.

"Shooting in Strasbourg's city center. Thanks to all for staying at home until the situation has been clarified," deputy mayor Alain Fontanel said in a tweet.

The Strasbourg-based European Parliament was on lockdown after reports of the shooting emerged, with MEPs, staff and journalists unable to leave the building, an AFP reporter said.

The parliament is currently in plenary session, with hundreds of MEPs and officials having made the monthly visit to Strasbourg from Brussels.

Police said the suspected gunman was due to be arrested by police earlier in the day over a separate attempted murder, a source close to the investigation said, adding he was known to authorities and was on France's "S" watchlist of suspected extremists.

The Christmas market in Strasbourg is an annual tourist attraction that draws hundreds of thousands of people.

Security has been stepped up in recent years after a series of attacks in France by Islamist gunmen since 2015.

Special anti-terror army units have been deployed and soldiers and armed police are regularly seen patrolling among the 300 wooden chalets that make up the market.

The shooting on Tuesday comes at a time when French security fores are stretched after more than three weeks of anti-government demonstrations.

Nearly 90,000 police were deployed on Saturday for the fourth round of protests by so-called "yellow vests" which led to violence in many cities.

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner was heading to the scene of the shooting on Tuesday evening.

Three years after groups of jihadists gunned down and blew up 130 people in Paris on November 13, 2015, French counter-terror officials say their focus has shifted.

Rather than coordinated attacks, their main concern is attacks by "lone wolves" -- self-radicalized individuals acting without links to terror groups such as Islamic State.

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