French Al-Qaeda Suspect Dies in Violent Last Stand
A self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda militant died in a hail of bullets on Thursday as he jumped out of an apartment window at the end of a 32-hour siege in southern France.
French security personnel stand near the Belle Paule residence in Toulouse. A self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda militant died in a hail of bullets as he jumped out of an apartment window at the end of a 32-hour siege in southern France.
Mohamed Merah, the main suspect in a wave of shootings that killed seven people, 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.
But Interior Minister Claude Gueant said the 23-year-old had been found dead on the ground in a dramatic end to the lengthy standoff.
"The killer came out from the bathroom shooting very violently. The bursts of gunfire were frequent and hard," Gueant said. "A RAID officer who is used to this kind of thing told me that he had never seen such a violent assault.
"RAID officers of course tried to protect themselves, to return fire, and then in the end, Mohamed Merah jumped out of the window with a gun in his hand, continuing to fire. He was found dead on the ground."
The exact cause of the death was not immediately clear. Merah's flat was reportedly on the first floor above the ground floor.
Sustained bursts of gunfire had been heard outside the apartment shortly after sources told AFP police were moving "rapidly" to end the siege, but progressing "step by step" through the apartment in fear of booby traps.
A total of around 300 shots were fired.
Three loud explosions near the apartment were heard shortly before police said the officers had moved in, and an ambulance was then seen passing through a security cordon.
Chronology of the shootings and police raid in Toulouse. A self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda militant died in a hail of bullets as he jumped out of an apartment window at the end of a 32-hour siege in southern France.
Gueant had arrived at the scene right before the blasts, an AFP reporter said. France's chief anti-terror prosecutor, Francois Molins, was also on site.
Merah had been holed up since Tuesday night 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.
Gueant had earlier said police had lost contact with Merah but that he had told authorities he wanted "to die weapons in hand".
President Nicolas Sarkozy congratulated police involved in the operation and was to make a televised statement at 1200 GMT, his office said.
"The president congratulates all of the security forces after the conclusion of these tragic events," he said. "Our thoughts at this time are particularly for those killed and wounded by the suspected killer."
Prosecutors said Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian descent, had fought off several police assaults on the flat on Wednesday and bragged to negotiators of having been trained by Al-Qaeda on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
"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 Wednesday.
After two police were wounded when they attempted to raid the apartment on Wednesday, authorities evacuated the building, turned off electricity in the neighbourhood and settled in for the siege.
Members of the RAID special police forces unit prepare to intervene in Toulouse. A self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda militant died in a hail of bullets as he jumped out of an apartment window at the end of a 32-hour siege in southern France.
Officials had said Merah was armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Mini-Uzi submachine pistol and a collection of handguns.
Molins said Merah had claimed responsibility for three shootings over the previous 10 days in which three French paratroopers, three Jewish children and a teacher were killed in cold blood, shocking the nation.
He claimed to be avenging Palestinian deaths and opposing the French military's involvement in Afghanistan and France's ban on full-face veils.
"Mohamed Merah explained that he belonged to Al-Qaeda. He explained he had been trained by Al-Qaeda in the Pakistani-Afghanistan region in Waziristan," Molins told reporters in Toulouse, scene of two of the shootings.
Waziristan is a tribal area of Pakistan which borders Afghanistan which is known as a haven for Islamist insurgents -- including Al-Qaeda militants -- connected to Taliban guerrillas fighting in both countries.
Molins said the suspect had gone to the region twice and on one occasion had been arrested by Afghan police and handed over to US army troops, who put him on a flight back to France.
Gueant said Merah received orders from Al-Qaeda.
"He explained how... he had even been suggested to carry out a suicide mission and refused, but agreed to carry out a general mission to commit an attack in France," Gueant told TF1 television.
French policemen and firefighters stand in Toulouse. A self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda militant died in a hail of bullets as he jumped out of an apartment window at the end of a 32-hour siege in southern France.
Police and prosecutors said they had arrested Merah's mother, brother and his brother's girlfriend as part of the inquiry. Sources said the suspect had been known to the domestic security service for some years.
Gueant has defended law enforcement from criticism for missing danger signs.
"In France you do not get sent to prison for professing strange or extremist ideas," Gueant told AFP.
On Wednesday, the Jewish victims of the attacks were buried in Jerusalem and two of the soldiers were laid to rest, one in France and one in Morocco.
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.
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 pair -- Corporal Abel Chennouf, 25, and Private First Class Mohammed Legouade, 23, -- were also French soldiers of North African origin.
Then on Monday the shooter, again 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.