French shooter has stopped talking with police: minister
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
French policemen wait near the place where French policemen, members of the RAID special weapons squad, attempt to arrest a suspected Al-Qaeda gunman on March 21, 2012 in Toulouse, southwestern France. AFP Photo
The self-declared Islamist militant holed up in a flat after a series of deadly shootings has stopped negotiating with police, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said Wednesday.
"He is no longer talking, the conversations have stopped," Gueant told journalists in Toulouse, after police had earlier said the suspect, Mohammed Merah, was in talks with police and intended to surrender later Wednesday.
French shooting suspect's mother and brother detained
The mother and brother of the suspect in France's deadly shootings, a self-declared Islamist besieged by police, were Wednesday detained along with the brother's girlfriend, police said.
Police had previously said the brother was in custody and that the mother had been brought to the scene of the siege in Toulouse to try and get her son to surrender.
French shooter's acts contradict Islam: Muslim leader
"These acts are in total contradiction with the foundations of this religion," said the head of the French Muslim Council, Mohammed Moussaoui. "France's Muslims are offended by this claim of belonging to this religion."
French gunman says he will surrender later in day: minister
The suspect in a series of shooting attacks in France, a self-declared Islamist militant besieged by police, has declared he will surrender later Wednesday, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said.
"He is currently in a dialogue with a police official and he says, I do not know if he is telling the truth, that he he will hand himself in later in the day," the minister said, in an interview with the BFM-TV news network.
A blast rang out today as French police besieged a flat where an Islamist suspect in a series of deadly shootings was holed up, claiming he had acted to avenge Palestinian children.
Two officers had already been wounded as shots rang out in the ongoing operation to arrest the suspect, thought to be a French national of North African origin who told officers he was a member of the Al-Qaeda network.
Armed officers investigating three recent attacks in which a scooter-riding killer gunned down seven people, including three Jewish children, sealed off an address in a residential district of the southern city of Toulouse.
Bursts of gunfire rang out periodically, AFP reporters at the scene said. Interior Minister Claude Gueant said the suspect's brother had been detained, although he confirmed that only one suspect had been at the scenes of the three shooting attacks carried out since March 11.
The suspect had previously been arrested on a matter of common law in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, cradle of the Taliban, police said.
The victims of the attacks were three soldiers of North African origin, three Jewish children and a rabbi. The police raid came on the day that the Jewish victims were due to be buried in Jerusalem.
Gueant said the 24-year-old suspect had spoken to officers through the door of his apartment, and declared himself to be a "mujaheedeen" or Islamic warrior fighting to avenge Palestinian children killed in the conflict with Israel.
Gueant confirmed two officers had been lightly wounded in the raid, during which the suspect had shot through a door. He said later that he hoped to capture the suspect "alive and in a condition where he could face justice." "The suspect's mother was brought to the scene. She was asked to make contact with her son, to reason with him, but she did not want to, saying she had little influence on him," Gueant said.
"This person has made trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the past ... and says he belongs to Al-Qaeda and says he wanted to avenge Palestinian children and to attack the French army," he added. "He has links with people involved in Jihadism and Salafism," he added, referring to two strains of Muslim thought that have influenced Al-Qaeda.
Neighbours leaving the cordoned area said the suspect was on the first storey of the building in the leafy residential area. They said the first shots had rung out around 3:00 a.m. (0200 GMT).
Paris Grand Mosque Recter Dalil Boubakeur urged France not to stigmatise its Muslim citizens in the wake of the shootings, saying "99.9 percent" of Muslims here were law-abiding citizens and the killings were the work of a tiny "fringe".
If the suspect is proved to have been responsible for the killings, it would bring to an end one of the most intense manhunts in French history and help calm tensions after the series of attacks disrupted a presidential election.
The shootings began on March 11, when a paratrooper of North African origin arranged to meet a man in Toulouse to sell him a scooter which he had advertised online, revealing in the ad his military status.
A message sent from the suspect's brother's IP address was used to set up an appointment to inspect the bike, an appointment at which paratrooper Imad Ibn Ziaten was subsequently killed, a police source said.
Ibn Ziaten, a 30-year-old staff sergeant in the 1st Airborne Transportation Regiment, was shot in the head at close range with a .45 calibre pistol, a method that was to become the suspect's signature.
Four days later three more paratroopers from another regiment were gunned down -- two of them fatally -- in the same fashion in a street in the nearby garrison town of Montauban.
The dead -- Corporal Abel Chennouf, 25, and Private First Class Mohammed Legouade, 23, both of the 17th Parachute Engineering Regiment -- were French soldiers of North African Arab origin.
Arab soldiers are prized targets for groups like Al-Qaeda, which regards Muslims who fight for Western armies as traitors.
Then on Monday the shooter, still wearing a motorcycle helmet and riding a scooter, attacked the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse, killing a religious studies teacher, his toddler sons and a seven-year-old girl.
Anti-terrorist magistrates said the same gun and and make of scooter was used in all three attacks and noted that the three attacks were carried out at precise four-day intervals.
On Wednesday, the bodies of the four Jewish victims arrived in Israel.
Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 4, and seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego arrived at Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv shortly before dawn. They were to be buried later in the day.
President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Socialist rival for the presidency Francois Hollande were due to attend a memorial ceremony for the slain soldiers in Montauban later Wednesday.
Ibn Ziaten was to be buried in Morocco, while his dead comrades were due for burial in France on Wednesday and Thursday.
Both Sarkozy and Hollande temporarily suspended their campaigns following Monday's attack, with France was traumatised by an unprecedented series of hate crimes.