Cops corner French shooting suspect

The gunman suspected to be involved in the recent killings had promised to surrender, police were to storm a building he was holed up in, if he failed to do so

Posted On Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 02:03:11 AM
Police stand at Belle Paule residence where a special police forces unit were attempting to arrest a self-declared Islamist gunman
Toulouse: French police were preparing to storm an apartment building in Toulouse on Wednesday if a gunman suspected in seven killings and claiming allegiance to al-Qaeda didn’t surrender, a top police official said.

Cedric Delage, regional secretary for a police union, had said at the time of going to press that the suspect has promised to turn himself into police shortly. Delage said if that doesn't happen, police will force their way in to arrest him.

The suspect told police he belonged to al-Qaeda and wanted to take revenge for Palestinian children killed in the Middle East, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said, adding the man also said he was angry about French military intervention abroad.

Hundreds of police surrounded the building Toulouse after 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.

The gunman is suspected of killing three Jewish children, a rabbi and three French paratroopers in recent days.

An Interior Ministry official identified the suspect as Mohamed or Mohammad Merah, who has been under surveillance for years for having “fundamentalist'' views. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

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.

French authorities have been following several leads but said the man holed up in the Toulouse apartment building was their key suspect. The suspect threw a Colt .45 handgun used in each of the three attacks out a window in exchange for a device to talk to authorities, but has more weapons like an AK-47 assault rifle, authorities said. Gueant said other weapons had been found in the suspect's car.

There was some confusion over the suspect's background, because a person of the same name was arrested in southern Afghanistan five years ago and escaped from his prison cell in a 2008 mass jailbreak, according to Kandahar provincial spokesman Ahmad Jawed Faisal. However, Faisal says their records also show that Merah was an Afghan citizen from Kandahar province.