Standoff with Toulouse killer reaches deadly end

Standoff with Toulouse killer reaches deadly end

Standoff with Toulouse killer reaches deadly end

Masked French special unit policemen arrive at barracks after the assault to capture the assailant. Mohammed Merah (inset) fired 30 times before being shot dead. REUTERS photos

A man suspected of killing seven people in France, including four outside a Jewish school, has been shot dead after a fierce gun battle with elite police commandos as he jumped out of a ground-floor window, ending the 32-hour siege.

Mohammed Merah, a 24-year-old French citizen of Algerian descent who claimed links to al-Qaeda, had tried to blast his way out of the siege in the city of Toulouse after members of an elite force known as RAID entered his flat. Interior Minister Claude Gueant said the 23-year-old had been found dead on the ground in a dramatic end to the lengthy standoff. 

Authorities said Merah was killed when he was shot in the head after wildly firing his handgun about 30 times; a total of around 300 shots were fired. French police were told to do everything possible to capture him alive when they raided his apartment, top prosecutor Francois Molins said. “The killer came out of the bathroom and started firing at police, while they were using a video camera to check each room of the upper-floor apartment. He then jumped out of a window. The bursts of gunfire were frequent and hard,” Gueant said. “RAID officers of course tried to protect themselves, to return fire, and then in the end, Merah jumped out of the window with a gun in his hand, continuing to fire. He was found dead on the ground.” 

Merah and his brother were both known to French intelligence because of their fundamentalist Salafist ideology. Molins said Merah had claimed to have been trained by al-Qaeda in Waziristan, a tribal area of Pakistan known as a haven for Islamist insurgents connected to Taliban militants. Molins said Merah had traveled to the region twice, and on one occasion was arrested by Afghan police and handed over to U.S. Army troops, who put him on a flight back to France. Gueant said Merah received direct orders from al-Qaeda.

Vow to crack down on extremism

President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed after the end of the siege to crack down on extremism, saying he wanted legal action against people who regularly consult jihadist websites or travel abroad for indoctrination. “From now on, any person who habitually consults Web sites that advocate terrorism or that call for hatred and violence will be criminally punished,” Sarkozy said in a televised address.

“France will not tolerate forced recruitment or ideological indoctrination on its soil,” Sarkozy said, adding that an enquiry will be launched into whether prisons are being used to propagate extremism in France. He said authorities are investigating whether Merah acted alone in the shootings. Merah had been holed up since the night of March 20, after being tracked down by police as the main suspect in a wave of shootings that killed seven people, including three soldiers and three Jewish children. “He expressed no regret apart from not having had enough time to kill more victims, and even boasted of having brought France to its knees,” Molins told reporters on March 21. Molins said Merah had claimed responsibility for three shootings over the previous 10 days. He claimed to be avenging Palestinian deaths and opposing the French military’s involvement in Afghanistan and France’s ban on full-face veils.