STRASBOURG • Shots rang out on Tuesday night and, within minutes, the busy Christmas market in the centre of Strasbourg was deserted and the city centre plunged into silence.
The market, with 300 wooden chalets serving wine and local produce, is a major tourist draw, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to the historic city in north-east France.
"We were at Kleber Square. It was around 8pm (3am on Wednesday, Singapore time). I heard shooting and then there was pandemonium," one witness, who gave his name as Fatih, said.
As he escaped, he saw three wounded people on the ground just a few metres from the giant illuminated Christmas tree erected in the centre of town.
The gunman crossed the Pont du Corbeau, one of the bridges that lead to the historic centre of Strasbourg, and opened fire in the Rue des Orfevres.
Two people were killed and several others critically injured.
The 29-year-old suspect, who was known to the security services, was wounded in an exchange of fire with soldiers on patrol as part of regular anti-terrorist operations.
Within minutes, the crowd was evacuated by police, the city centre cordoned off and cleared.
A few people, unaware of the situation, continued to wander around, surprised at the sudden halt to festivities.
As soldiers, police and rescue vehicles arrived, security forces told everyone to take shelter.
"We started to see police with shields. They spread out. They shouted, 'Get out, get out.' They were searching (for the gunman)," said Fatih, who was on an outing with friends.
"We were confined in a restaurant. The owner took us to the back of the room," said a civil servant called Michele, who was dining on a street near the incident.
"Shooting in Strasbourg's city centre. Thanks to all for staying at home until the situation has been clarified," Deputy Mayor Alain Fontanel said in a tweet shortly afterwards.
Kleber Square, usually bustling two weeks from Christmas, was quickly deserted and silent.
"We let everyone inside, down into the wine cellar. They're locked in there," local restaurant owner Mouad, 33, said.
Strasbourg Mayor Roland Ries told BFM TV news channel that the Christmas market had been tightly policed since 2015, when multiple terrorist attacks struck France. He said police regularly check bags and coats, and pat down visitors at access points.
"This individual was able to enter. I don't know how," he said, referring to the gunman.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, REUTERS