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Toulouse shooter set to surrender

Three officers reportedly injured in gunfire exchange in northern Toulouse. Suspect claims links to al-Qaeda, apparent motive for shooting was revenge for killing of Palestinian children by Israel

French police secure the area where they exchanged fire and were negotiating with a gunman who claims connections to al-Qaeda. (photo credit: AP Photo/Bruno Martin)
French police secure the area where they exchanged fire and were negotiating with a gunman who claims connections to al-Qaeda. (photo credit: AP Photo/Bruno Martin)

Mohammed Mesah, the man suspected of the Toulouse Jewish school massacre surrendered his weapons to police forces surrounding his house after an hours-long standoff, in northern Toulouse, Wednesday morning.

The suspect has given up a pistol in exchange for a mobile phone, but still has powerful weapons including an Uzi machine gun and a Kalashnikov assault rifle, Interior Minister Claude Gueant told French media.

The man, who according to French Interior Minister Claude Gueant is an Algerian national with links to al-Qaeda, is holed up in a house in northern Toulouse after an early morning gun-battle. He told police negotiators that he will turn himself in later this afternoon.

French media have linked the suspect to a group called Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride) that was banned by Interior Minister Gueant last month.

During negotiations with police, the suspect said he committed the attack out of a desire to avenge the death of Palestinian children by Israel.

Three police officers were reportedly injured in the operation that began before dawn, one of them was shot in the knee.

His brother has been arrested on suspicion of aiding him.

Officers brought the suspect’s mother to the scene and tried to get her to help negotiate, but she refused, saying “she had little influence on him,” Gueant said.

The suspect is 24 years old, of French nationality and says that “he belongs to al-Qaeda,” Gueant told reporters at the scene. He said the suspect “wants to take revenge for Palestinian children” killed in the Middle East, and is angry at the French military for its operations abroad.

The man was known to authorities for having spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gueant said.

French media sources said the suspect spent time training on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where he adopted extremist ideology.

Al-Arabiya reported the man had been arrested in Afghanistan.

French authorities had declared a nationwide manhunt to find the killer of three children and one adult at the Jewish Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse on Monday.

Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, his two children Gavriel and Arieh, ages 5 and 4, and Miriam Monsonego, age 7, were shot in close range by a gunman on a stolen motorcycle.

Police originally suspected neo-Nazi involvement in the crime, which they linked to the killing French paratroopers earlier this month. Police said the weapon used in all the attacks as well, as the mode of operation, indicated the same finger pulled the trigger.

Frannce 24 reported that the suspect had been detained by the police in the past, in connection to the earlier killings.

According to initial reports, the arrested suspect claimed he killed the soldiers to protest French involvement in the war on terror.

Israeli reporters on the scene said they now believe that the police deliberately misled the press about suspicions of neo-Nazi perpetrators so that the real suspects would drop their guard.

For years the main terrorist threat that French authorities have been concerned about has been al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which grew from an extremist group in the former French colony of Algeria.

French officials have been worried that the groוp may try to conduct an action in France ahead of presidential elections in April and May, a counterterrorism official told The Associated Press this week. So far, it has never succeeded in reaching across the Mediterranean Sea to strike in Europe.

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