In the "Carré d'Or", Strasbourg's historic district, the crowd is dense on this December weekend. A stone's throw from the cathedral, the notes of "Jingle Bell" rise in the hubbub of onlookers dazzled by the Christmas windows. On Rue des Orfèvres, a group of about ten people obstructs the passage. Their dark faces contrast with the surrounding hustle and bustle. These people from Strasbourg remember the 5 dead and 11 wounded victims of an Islamist radicalized man on December 11, 2018. "It's been 5 years and yet we still have the same pain," says Mostafa Salhane, his eyes moist.
Mostafa, a taxi driver, spent 29 long minutes with the terrorist that day. After opening fire on passers-by, 48-year-old Chérif Chekatt, who is known to the justice system for multiple common law offences, rushed into the vehicle and pointed his gun at the driver to flee from the police. "He wanted to finish the job" by killing agents, said Mostafa, who extricated himself from the situation by subterfuge. "He asked me if I had anything to treat his injury. I told him I had some equipment in the trunk, we went there together, and I took advantage of a moment of inattention to restart in a hurry." The radicalized man was found and shot dead after a <>-hour manhunt. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
Maximum Security Festivities
Nobody talks about it, but everyone thinks about it," says the baker from Rue des Orfèvres. "Especially the shopkeepers. We often talk about it between us." Attendance at the Christkindelsmärik ("Jesus Child Market"), one of the oldest Christmas markets, has not dropped, however. Nearly three million visitors are expected until December 24, according to the prefecture's estimates. Around the city centre, tourist buses invade the parking lots.
Nearly three million visitors are expected until December 24, according to the prefecture's estimates. Le Figaro
Soldiers patrol a busy street in Strasbourg. Le Figaro
To reassure the crowds, the prefect of the Bas-Rhin, Josiane Chevalier, has announced a particularly reinforced security system for this 2023 edition. "The aim is to maintain a maximum level of security throughout the event," she said after a meeting held ten days after the opening of the annual market.
A thousand security forces have been deployed. A bag and luggage control welcomes tourists at the entrance and exit of the Great Island. On this crowded December weekend, at midday, a suspicious package alert is triggered in the very commercial street of Grandes-Arcades, where the assailant killed one of his victims in 2018. In one minute, riot police unsheathed rolls of red and white banners cordoned off the perimeter. Onlookers, summoned to change their route, comply willy-nilly. Dominique, who had come from Poitou-Charentes on purpose to enjoy the atmosphere of Christmas the Alsatian, thought carefully about the risk of an attack before coming. "But we're not going to stop living," says the <>-year-old.
One thousand law enforcement officers are deployed until 24 December. Le Figaro
This is not the first time that the "Strasbourg Capital of Christmas" event has taken place under heavy surveillance. The market has always been seen as a target. Already in 2000, an attack planned by a Salafist group was foiled. "Since the Bataclan, we've been used to being bunkerized," explains Pierre Jakubowicz, Strasbourg city councillor and Horizons delegate for Strasbourg and Bas-Rhin. The year after the attack, in 2019, "it had even gone very far," he says. "Everything was barricaded. There were searches everywhere, trucks and concrete studs blocked the streets." This season, the threat level has gone up a notch. "After Arras, and after the October 7 attack in Israel, we know that we are a target. Strasbourg is the city in France with the most S files, and the most departures to Syria, "recalls the city councillor.
Pierre Jacubowicz was drinking mulled wine on the day of the attack near the cathedral when he heard the gunshots. Like many Strasbourgers, he was confined away from home for several hours. Now, when he goes back to the market, "it's impossible not to think about it, at one time or another," says the Horizons delegate. For him, as for many Strasbourg residents affected by the attack, "Christmas will never be completely blank again," he said. "For me, now, it's part of places.»
Mostafa Salhane, a taxi driver taken hostage by the radicalised assailant, retraces the killer's route through the streets of Strasbourg. Le Figaro
Five years after the attack, Mostafa, the taxi driver, can name each of the victims, how many stab wounds they received, where the bullet landed, where the radicalized man reloaded his gun. "It's etched in the memory of the people of Strasbourg," the witness said. "Many victims are struggling to rebuild their lives." He has also kept a "hypervigilance" that never leaves him. "After all these years, it's at its peak.»
We have become very vigilant," adds Marie, a waitress at the Bistrot des Cocottes, in front of which a man collapsed, killed by a shot from the terrorist. "I can tell you that our eyes are glued everywhere." Her voice still trembles when she evokes this vision of the man on the ground, in this coquettish alley in the colors of Christmas. "The sad thing is that it continues. And it's everywhere now. In Paris last week, in Arras in October... We're going to be scared for a long time," fears the Strasbourg native.