A gunman killed three people and wounded multiple others near a Christmas market in the French border city of Strasbourg on Tuesday evening.
As security forces sought to arrest the suspect, Euronews spoke to Chris Phillips, former head of the UK National Counter Terrorism Security Office, about what action was being taken, why Strasbourg was targeted and the need for businesses to be better prepared for such events.
Efforts to ‘get this situation under control’
With the suspect on the run, Phillips said police would be focusing all their efforts of containing him “so that they can get this situation under control".
"The French police tend to do things slightly differently to the UK police in that they will go in very quickly and I think if there's a threat to life then they'll do that so we can probably, because it's France, expect a quicker ending to this than perhaps in some countries."
French police ‘are used to it’
Phillips said police in Strasbourg must be “absolutely exhausted”.
“They’ve not only been on alert for many, many years now … where they’ve known that a terrorist attack could happen at any minute. But also they’ve had all the riots going on over the past few weekends so goodness knows how they’re coping with all of this,” he said.
He added, they “have experience now of dealing with these kinds of incidents, one after the other actually, over the last three or four years and they’ve had to go in and take on armed suspects, so they’re used to it.”
‘Strasbourg has a particular problem’
Phillips noted that the northeastern city had been the scene of attempted terrorist attacks before.
“Strasbourg has a particular problem because it’s right by the border with Germany and, of course, there’s a movement across and police forces don’t work well across borders either, so it’s very difficult for the police to totally prevent these attacks,” he said.
He added that it was “no surprise” that a Christmas market was targeted.
“Christmas markets are a) a Christian gathering, but also they are lots of people, and that’s what ... this particular band of terrorists wants to attack.”
‘You’ve got to be on it, you’ve got to be a little bit lucky’
The security expert was unsurprised that the gunman had been on France’s “fiche S” national security list.
“You’ve got to realise how big that list is … Unless you’re going to have huge increases in police officers and security officers then they’re not all going to be able to be watched all the time.
“What we’re seeing more and more now with terrorists is that they go from thinking about terrorism perhaps to actually going and doing it very quickly, and that’s very difficult to stop.
"You’ve got to be on it, you’ve got to be a little bit lucky.”
‘It’s very easy if you can get hold of a gun to go and kill people’
Phillips noted that it’s “very easy if you can get hold of a gun to go and kill people”.
“In Europe, particularly in France, there is a high gun ownership. Of course, these criminals now, terrorists … are mixing up and linking up with organised crime groups who have access to all sorts of firearms. This is a big problem for societies over the coming years. The mixture between organised crime groups and terrorists.”
‘Businesses must have plans in place’
He also said businesses in Strasbourg were “learning a lesson that you need to have some plans in place for dealing with this kind of incident.”
“We don’t know what the next terrorist attack will look like, we don’t know what this one will end up as, so you need to have as a business some plans in place to protect yourself and know how to act.”