At least three people are confirmed dead and 12 injured following a shooting at the Christmas market in Strasbourg on Tuesday evening. A number of Estonians were present nearby, including MEP Urmas Paet (Reform/ALDE) and ERR journalist Mall Mälberg.
European Parliament official Kadri Kopli told ERR around 22:00 EET on Tuesday that she and a group of Estonians had been planning on having dinner at a restaurant in Strasbourg's Old Town when shots were fired.
"Then we ran and we ran until we reached the restaurant," she said, adding that there was a lot of confusion at first, but it had seemed to her that there had been shots fired in more than one place. "But I didn't understand at first. You didn't know whether it was fireworks or an attack. There is a rumour that the gunman has been killed, but I really don't know. In any case it seems as though the situation is under control by now, but we have not yet been allowed to leave the restaurant."
She also recalled that there are strict security measures in place in Strasbourg and that there are a lot of patrols in the city, including on the city's bridges. Following the attack, nothing serious has happened to the group of Estonians, as far as Kopli knew.
Estonian Karina Loi was also close by when the attack occurred.
"We were pretty close by," she said. "We had walked through the Christmas market just a few minutes before the shooting. Then we suddenly heard some kind of bangs. We initially thought that it was fireworks and weren't worried about it, but then people started running in a panic, and so we ran too. Then shots came from another direction, and then we saw a body on the street. Then we understood that the situation was serious, as it still is."
She and her companions ran into a nearby restaurant. "One person who was gunned down next to the restaurant, their body was brought into the restaurant, and paramedics haven't even gotten out yet because it isn't safe," she described to ERR at around 23:00, adding that it seemed likely that they would remain in the restaurant for another couple of hours at least.
"All five of us Estonians that were together were deathly afraid in the literal sense," Loi said. "We were all scared to death, about where to run, and... It was horrible. We are still in shock."
European Parliament employee Mihkel Allik was in a shop at the time when the shooting occurred out front.
"When it broke out outside, we were all immediately ordered to the back room at the shop," he told ERR at around 22:00. "The French security team and the shop's employees acted very professionally. There are some 40 of us here. We were in the back room for about 20 minutes before being let back into the store, and now we have been here for about an hour."
According to Allik, everyone at the shop was calm and waiting to be released. "I guess it depends on how quickly they act," he said. "From what I understood of what the police said, the Christmas market has been combed over and surrounded, and the terrorist is somewhere outside of the Old Town."
He added that those that had been at the registers at the time and witnessed the shooting were called in to give statements. He himself, however, did not see or hear any shots.
Multiple Estonians in same adjacent restaurant
ERR's Mall Mälberg was likewise near the scene at the time of the attack.
"I was sitting in a restaurant on the edge of Place Kléber," she said. "We didn't exactly hear the gunshots. We know that allegedly one person has been killed. The Christmas market is closed, and not a single light is on. Tram service has been suspended. Nobody can leave the restaurant. We know just as much as anyone else, but we can't leave here."
She noted that the Christmas market, one of Europe's most beautiful, which she had come to see on holiday, was completely down.
"No lights, and the streets are empty," she described. "I don't know what else to say. This is the first time that I have been in the middle of a shooting. There is complete darkness all around; there isn't a single light on, and everything is closed. It has changed beyond all recognition. Just two hours ago, it was beautiful here — one of Europe's most beautiful Christmas markets. Now there is nothing."
Paet was at the same restaurant as Mälberg at the time, where he was informed of the attack by the European Parliament's security service.
"The European Parliament's security service also sent out an announcement that there had been a shooting in Strasbourg's Old Town, possibly in multiple places," the MEP said. "One person has apparently been killed and a number injured. It was recommended that we remain indoors. People are not being let out of the European Parliament building until it is clear exactly what happened and what the plan is."
He confirmed that Strasbourg's Old Town is very big, and that its Christmas market is spread across multiple locations in the Old Town. According to Paet, the shooting occurred a few hundred metres away from the restaurant where he was at the time. He admitted, however, that he had not received any information yet from local authorities.
Strasbourg's popular Christmas market, located on the island known as Grande Île, draws hundreds of thousands of tourists per year.
France has remained at a heightened state of alert since terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016 that left more than 200 dead.
Ratas condemns attack, offers condolences
"I condemn the terrible attack in Strasbourg," Prime Minister Jüri Ratas wrote on Twitter on Wednesday morning. "There is no justification for such violence. My thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims and I wish [a] speedy recovery for the injured."
"My thoughts are with the victims of the Strasbourg shooting," MEP Yana Toom (Centre/ALDE) tweeted on Tuesday night. "Everyone who is in the city, please stay safe."
Editor: Aili Vahtla