Al-Qaeda group claims responsibility for Toulouse killings

President Sarkozy announces intensified investigation into radical Islamic indoctrination, new measures to prevent future attacks

Toulouse terrorist Mohamed Merah (AP/France 2)
Toulouse terrorist Mohamed Merah (AP/France 2)

An al-Qaeda linked group called Jund al-Khilafah has claimed responsibility for the Toulouse killings. The group, which has previously claimed responsibility for attacks in Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, posted a statement on its website Thursday saying it stood behind Mohamed Merah’s murderous rampage.

A French prosecutor says that a gunman who claimed responsibility for a radical Islam-inspired killing spree was shot in the head by police after a noon firefight Thursday.

Francois Molins said Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian origin wanted in the deaths of seven people, filmed all three of his attacks in recent days that killed three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers. He reportedly told police the attacks were an attempt to “bring France to its knees.”

Molins said that “everything was done to try to arrest him alive.”

Merah had made “extremely explicit films” of all three deadly attacks, video since viewed by police, and claimed to have posted them online, the prosecutor said. Merah told investigators where to find the bag with the videos, caught by a camera that had been strapped to his chest and given to someone else to keep.

In the film of the March 11 attack that killed a paratrooper, the prosecutor said the gunman is heard saying: “You kill my brothers — I kill you.”

In his film of the second attack, on March 15 that killed two paratroopers and wounded a third in nearby Montauban, Merah cried out “Allahu Akbar!” or “God is great” in Arabic, the prosecutor said.

Authorities spoke little about the video of the third attack at a Jewish school in Toulouse. A witness to another video of that rampage, from a school camera, said it was chilling and had described him shooting young children in the head.

A stash of arms was found in a car rented by Merah, including an automatic Sten pistol, a revolver, a pump-action rife and an Uzi submachine gun. Ingredients for Molotov cocktails were stashed on the apartment balcony. Inside, were three empty ammunition clips, a pot packed with pieces of ammunition and a Colt .45 with a near-empty clip.

Merah had told investigators where to find the car.

More than 200 special investigators had worked to track him down. They found his mother’s computer, which he used to respond to an online ad posted by the first victim, a paratrooper trying to sell his scooter. They also found a Yamaha motorcycle shop where Merah suspiciously sought information about how to deactivate a GPS tracker.

Police entered Merah’s apartment after a 32-hour standoff. Molins said the gunman came out of the bathroom shooting wildly and aggressively and was shot in the head as he jumped out of the window.

Two police officers were reportedly wounded in the firefight.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said an investigation was under way to see if the suspect in the series of radical Islam-inspired killings had any accomplices.

Sarkozy also said anyone who regularly visits “websites which support terrorism or call for hate or violence will be punished by the law.” He promised a crackdown on anyone who goes abroad “for the purposes of indoctrination in terrorist ideology.”

Police said that during hours of negotiations on Wednesday, when the standoff first began, Merah admitted to being proud of the seven slayings he carried out in three motorcycle shooting attacks around Toulouse. They are believed to be the first killings inspired by Islamic radical motives in France in more than a decade.

Authorities said Merah espoused a radical form of Islam and had been to Afghanistan and the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan, where he claimed to have received training from al-Qaeda.

Elite police squads had set off sporadic blasts throughout the night and into the morning — some blew off the apartment’s shutters — in order to pressure Merah to give up. A new set of loud detonations, known as flash bangs, resounded in the morning, signaling the end to the standoff.

Interiro Minister Claude Gueant, who was on the scene, said police “went in by the door, taking off the door first. They also came in by the windows.”

Gueant said police used special video equipment to search the second-floor apartment but found him nowhere, until the special instruments surveyed the bathroom.

“The killer came out” firing “with extreme violence,” Gueant told reporters. Police “tried to protect themselves and fired back.”

“Mohamed Merah jumped out the window, gun in hand, continuing to fire. He was found dead on the ground,” Gueant said.

Gueant had earlier said police wanted to capture Merah alive.

On Wednesday, Merah appeared to toy with police negotiators — first saying he would surrender in the afternoon, then saying he would surrender under the cover of darkness, then reneging on those pledges altogether.

Police said Merah told negotiators he killed the rabbi and three young children at a Jewish school on Monday and three French paratroopers before that to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and to protest the French army’s involvement in Afghanistan. He was also upset over a French government ban last year on face-covering Islamic veils.

One other student and another paratrooper were wounded in his attacks.

Gueant defended France’s efforts to fight terrorism over the past decade, saying 700 people have been detained and about 60 “Islamists with terrorist tendencies” are currently in French prisons.

Even before Merah’s death, the lawyer who had defended him for years, on a series of criminal charges, predicted a dramatic and somber end to the standoff.

“He wants to show he is exceptional, omnipotent, and this approach can only end up as something tragic,” Christian Etelin said on news channel i-Tele on Thursday.

Etelin said Merah had tried to join the French military but was rejected. He said Merah was also disillusioned after a string of convictions for petty crimes and after efforts to reduce his sentences through work programs failed.

“He felt rejected by the periods of detention he was handed out, and for his wish to defend France in the army. Now, he is in a process of hate,” Etelin said.

Police said they had to capture Merah to prevent more deaths.

“He has no regrets, except not having more time to kill more people, and he boasts that he has brought France to its knees,” prosecutor Francois Molins said at a Wednesday news conference.

Molins said Merah had plans to kill another soldier, which prompted the first police raid at around 3 a.m. Wednesday. After that erupted into a firefight, wounding two police, the standoff dragged on and on, with sporadic negotiations with the suspect that lasted through the night.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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