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Suspect in 7 killings in Franceholed up in police standoff
TOULOUSE, FRANCE— In a tense, daylong standoff, French riot police surrounded a building in southwest France on Wednesday, demanding the surrender of a man they suspect of slaying seven victims in an al Qaeda-linked terrorism spree.
Hundreds of police cordoned off the streets around an apartment complex in the city of Toulouse after a pre-dawn raid erupted into a firefight.
Three police were wounded as they tried to arrest a 24-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent who is suspected of killing three Jewish children, a rabbi and three French paratroopers.
The prosecutor said Mr. Merah was planning to kill another soldier imminently, so police had to launch the 3 a.m. raid.
French authorities - like others in Europe - have long been concerned about “lone-wolf” attacks by young, Internet-savvy militants who self-radicalize online. Mr. Molins‘ comments, however, marked the first time a radical Islamic motive has been ascribed to killings in France in years.
The police raid 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 beginning March 11, killings that have horrified the country and frozen campaigning for the French presidential election next month.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has played up nationalist themes in his bid for a second term.
“Terrorism will not be able to fracture our national community,” Mr. Sarkozy declared Wednesday on national television before heading to funeral services for two paratroopers killed and another injured in Montauban, near Toulouse.
The suspect repeatedly promised to turn himself in Wednesday, then halted negotiations.
Cedric Delage, regional secretary for a police union, said if he did not turn himself in, police were preparing to storm the building.
After bouts of deadly terrorist attacks in France in the 1980s and 1990s, France increased its legal arsenal - now seen as one of the most effective in Western Europe and a reference for countries including the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In recent years, French counterterrorism officials have focused mainly on al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African affiliate of Osama bin Laden’s network that has its roots in an insurgent group in Algeria - a former French colony.
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