“Considering the target, his way of operating, his profile and the testimonies of those who heard him yell ‘Allahu Akbar’, the anti-terrorist police has been called into action,” Heitz told reporters on Wednesday.
The French government has raised the security alert level for terrorism to its highest, reinforcing border controls and patrols around all Christmas markets across France.
Police have identified the suspect as Strasbourg-born Cherif Chekatt, 29, who is on an intelligence services watch list as a potential security risk. It is believed he was radicalised in prison.
Chekatt opened fire on Tuesday evening at the famed Strasbourg Christmas market, which draws thousands of visitors every year.
The shooting left three people dead and 13 wounded, a number still in critical condition.
French authorities said the attacker had been on their list of extremists and “is actively being hunted by security forces”.
Four people connected to the suspect have been detained, said Heitz. Sources close to the investigation have identified them as the suspect's parents and his two brothers.
Heinz added that Chekatt had also been injured in the chase, according to the driver of the taxi he used to escape.
On behalf of Canadians, I offer my condolences to the families of victims of the terrible attack near the Christmas market in Strasbourg. Our values and traditions cannot, and will not, ever be defeated by cowardly acts like this. Our deepest sympathies to everyone affected.Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) December 12, 2018
Chekatt had been jailed for burglary in Germany before being expelled to France, German authorities said Wednesday. He was sentenced to two years and three months for burglaries in the city of Mainz and in Baden-Wuerttemberg state, and jailed in 2016.
“He served a year in Germany before being expelled to France,” a spokesman from Baden-Wuerttemberg’s interior ministry said.
According to the Tagesspiegel newspaper, Chekatt broke into a dentist practice in Mainz, Rhineland Palatinate state, in 2012, making away with money, stamps and gold used for teeth fillings.
Four years later, he robbed a pharmacy in the Lake Constance town of Engen, Baden-Wuerttemberg, stealing money.
German authorities were now on the lookout for the fugitive “along the Rhine” river region, the ministry spokesman said.
“But at the moment we do not believe that he has crossed into the country,” he added.