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Toulouse gunman confirmed dead after firefight with police

Three officers injured after Mohammed Merah resists; Sarkozy says officials probing whether terrorist acted alone

A woman and children are escorted by a police officer near a building where Mohammed Merah was holed up Thursday. (photo credit: AP/Remy de la Mauviniere)
A woman and children are escorted by a police officer near a building where Mohammed Merah was holed up Thursday. (photo credit: AP/Remy de la Mauviniere)

TOULOUSE, France — French special forces raided the apartment of Toulouse gunman Mohammed Merah early Thursday afternoon, reportedly killing him and ending a 32-hour siege.

Merah was killed after resisting arrest when police entered his first-floor apartment. Three police officers were injured in the raid, one seriously, according to police reports.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy thanked police for the operation, shortly after, and said an investigation had been launched to determine if the Merah acted alone.

Police used a camera to survey the apartment and when the camera entered the bathroom, the gunman came out, “guns blazing,” Interior Minister Claude Gueant told reporters. A firefight ensued and Merah jumped out the first-floor window and was “found dead,” he said.

“The killer came out of the bathroom, firing with extreme violence,” Gueant said, adding that the RAID squad had “never seen an assault like it.”

Gueant said police “went in by the door, taking off the door first. They also came in by the windows.”

He 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.”

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

Heavy gunfire was heard outside the apartment for several minutes after police entered the apartment. Some 300 bullets were shot in the firefight.

Merah, who confessed to killing three children and a rabbi outside a Jewish school in Toulouse Monday, reportedly said he wanted “to die weapons in hand,” according to Gueant earlier Thursday.

Merah is also believed to have killed three French paratroopers

According to Europe 1, Merah opened fire on one of the members of the special forces, known in France as RAID, from his balcony.

French media reported that police found a suitcase on Merah’s body, which was believed to hold explosive material.

Three loud explosions were heard outside the apartment earlier, and three stretchers were taken out of an ambulance.

Gueant earlier said police had not been in contact with Merah since Wednesday evening.

He added that Merah said he had no interest in negotiations.

Merah was under siege for some 32 hours beginning at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, when police originally tried to raid his home.

Elite police squads set off sporadic blasts throughout the night and into the morning — some that blew off the apartment’s shutters — in what officials described as a tactic aimed to pressure Merah to give up.

Holed up alone in an otherwise evacuated apartment building, Merah appeared to toy with police negotiators — first saying he would surrender in the afternoon, then under the cover of darkness, then reneging on those pledges altogether, officials said.

French police officers and firefighters stand next to the apartment building where Mohammed Merah was holed up late Wednesday. (photo credit: AP/Christophe Ena)
French police officers and firefighters stand next to the apartment building where Mohammed Merah was holed up late Wednesday. (photo credit: AP/Christophe Ena)

Authorities said the shooter, a French citizen of Algerian descent, had been to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he claimed to have received training from al-Qaida.

They said he told negotiators he carried out the terror attacks to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and to protest the French army’s involvement in Afghanistan, as well as a government ban last year on face-covering Islamic veils.

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

Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and two of his children, Arieh and Gavriel, 5 and 3, were killed in the Monday attack. Also killed was Myriam Monsenego, 8. The four were buried in Israel on Wednesday.

The standoff began when a police attempt at around 3 a.m. to detain Merah erupted into a firefight. Two police were wounded, triggering on-and-off negotiations with the suspect that lasted into the night.

As darkness fell, police cut electricity and gas to the building, then quietly closed in to wait out the suspect.

French police outside the apartment of Mohamed Merah Wednesday night (AP/Remy de la Mauviniere)
French police outside the apartment of Mohammed Merah Wednesday night (AP/Remy de la Mauviniere)

French authorities — like others in Europe — have long been concerned about “lone-wolf” attacks by young, Internet-savvy militants who self-radicalize online since they are harder to find and track. Still, it was the first time a radical Islamic motive has been ascribed to killings in France in years.

Merah espoused a radical brand of Islam and had been to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region twice and to the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan for training, Molins said.

He said the suspect had plans to kill another soldier, prompting the police raid.

 

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