TOULOUSE, France (AP) — After a pre-dawn raid erupted into a firefight, French riot police pressed Wednesday for the surrender of a holed-up gunman who is suspected in seven killings and claiming allegiance to al Qaeda. A prosecutor said the gunman was planning to kill another soldier imminently.
After 13 hours of negotiations, one French official said hundreds of police were ready to storm the building in the southwestern city of Toulouse to end the standoff.
Three police have already been wounded trying to arrest the 24-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent who is suspected of killing three Jewish children, a rabbi and three French paratroopers.
Prosecutor Francois Molins said the gunman, Mohamed Merah, had been to Afghanistan twice and had trained in the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan. Molins said the gunman’s brother had been implicated in a network that sent militant fighters to Iraq.
The police raid Wednesday was part of France’s biggest manhunt since a wave of terrorist attacks in the 1990s by Algerian extremists. The chase began after France’s worst-ever school shooting Monday and two previous attacks on paratroopers, killings that have horrified the country and frozen the campaigning for the French presidential election starting next month.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has played up nationalist themes in his bid for a second term
The suspect has 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 was also angry about French military intervention abroad.
An Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the suspect has been under surveillance for years for having “fundamentalist” views.
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 said 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. Gueant said other weapons had been found in the suspect’s car.
The suspect “said he wants to avenge the deaths of Palestinians,” Gueant told reporters, adding that he is “less explicit” about why he killed French paratroopers. The paratroopers were of Muslim and French Caribbean origin, but the interior minister said the suspect told them the ethnic origin had nothing to do with his actions.
Police swept in soon after 3 a.m. (0200 GMT; 10 p.m. EDT Tuesday) on the residential neighborhood in Toulouse where the suspect was holed up. At one point, volleys of gunfire were exchanged.
The suspect promised several times to surrender in the afternoon, then stopped talking to negotiators, Gueant said. In the early afternoon, he resumed talking.View Entire Story
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