France locked down amid Toulouse manhunt

France locked down amid Toulouse manhunt

France locked down amid Toulouse manhunt

AFP photo

A gunman suspected in the shooting deaths of four people at a Jewish school in France Monday was surrounded by hundreds of police in a building in the southwestern city of Toulouse, after a predawn raid erupted into a firefight.

French police were preparing to storm the building to arrest the holed-up gunman, who is suspected in seven killings, including those of three paratroopers, and claims allegiance to al-Qaeda, when the Daily News went to press. Three officers were wounded in a predawn raid while trying to arrest the 24-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent who authorities said had spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan. An Interior Ministry official identified the suspect as Mohammed Merah, who has been under surveillance for years for having “fundamentalist” views. Authorities in Afghanistan confirmed that Merah had been arrested for building bombs in the lawless southern province of Kandahar in 2007, but escaped months later in a massive Taliban prison break.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy told representatives of France’s Jewish community the suspected gunman had planned another attack yesterday, a Jewish leader said. Nicole Yardeni, the head of a Jewish group in the Midi-Pyrenees region, said Sarkozy had told them the shooter “already had a plan to kill again” and that “he planned to kill this morning.”

Israel buries victims

The suspect has told police he belongs to al-Qaeda and wanted to take revenge for Palestinian children killed in the Middle East, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said, adding that the man was also angry about French military intervention abroad. After hours of trying to persuade him to surrender, police evacuated the five-story building, escorting residents out using the roof and fire truck ladders.

The raid was part of France’s biggest manhunt since a wave of attacks in the 1990s by Algerian extremists. The chase began after France’s worst-ever school shooting March 19 and two previous attacks on paratroopers, killings that have horrified the country and frozen the campaigning for the French presidential election starting next month.

Meanwhile, a rabbi and three children were buried yesterday in a Jerusalem cemetery, with a bereaved mother and wife begging her slain loved ones to “come back home.” The bodies of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 3, and 8-year-old Myriam Monsenego were flown to Israel early yesterday. The families had asked for burial in Israel, as the children held dual Israeli-French citizenship and the rabbi had lived in Israel for years.

Hundreds of mourners, many of them sobbing, thronged around the bodies laid out on stretchers as eulogies were delivered. The slain members of the Sandler family were wrapped in white prayer shawls while Myriam was draped in black velvet. Mourners then walked to the burial grounds. Men carried the bodies on stretchers and buried them, while women watched from behind a nearby fence.

Compiled from AP, AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.