Toulouse shootings: Algerian man cornered in flat
Suspect in Jewish school shootings, who has been linked with al-Qaeda, is in an armed stand-off with police
THE MANHUNT for the Toulouse killer took a dramatic turn this morning with an armed siege in the city. The stand-off began at 3.40am this morning when a man exchanged gunfire with police who had surrounded a five-storey block at 17 Rue Sergent Vigne in the Cote Pavee district, according to The Daily Telegraph.
The building has been evacuated and three officers were slightly injured in the shootout. The suspect later threw a handgun from the building in return for a mobile phone, but is reported to have an Uzi machine gun, Kalashnikov and other weapons.
He was later named as Mohammed Merah, and police have confirmed that he spent time on the Afghan-Pakistan border and had previously been arrested “on a matter of common law” in Kandahar. But claims that he had been in prison in Afghanistan and was freed in a Taliban prison raid were later denied by the authorities in Kandahar.
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant says that Merah is a 23-year-old French national of Algerian origin and that he has links to al-Qaeda. "He wants to take revenge for Palestinian children," Gueant says, and is "angry at the French military for its operations abroad".
Gueant explained in a later briefing: "[Merah] had for several years been tracked by the DCRI [French intelligence] and its agents in Toulouse but there was never anything to suggest that he was preparing a criminal act." Merah had been planning to give himself up in the afternoon, said Gueant, but as the 1.30pm deadline came and went he broke off contact with negotiators.
Merah's brother was arrested earlier in another part of Toulouse.
The besieged block has been cordoned off by police officers wearing full body armour. Merah's mother has been brought to the scene but has refused to speak to the man, saying she has "little influence" over him. Police were initially alerted to the man by a local scooter dealer, who said he had been asked last week by a customer about customising a vehicle.
According to The Guardian, the French news channel BFM TV said the suspect is linked to an Islamist group that it identified as Forsane Alizza but it was not immediately possible to confirm this.
As the seige continued French President Nicolas Sarkozy travelled to Toulouse, and attended a memorial service in nearby Montauban for the three murdered soldiers. The BBC reports he told Jewish community leaders that the gunmen had been planning more attacks before the police operation this morning.