- Associated Press - Thursday, March 22, 2012

TOULOUSE, FRANCE In a dramatic end to a 32-hour standoff, a French police assault team slipped into an Islamic extremist’s apartment Thursday, sparking a firefight that ended with the man being shot in the head as he jumped out the window, weapon in hand.

The suspect, 23-year-old Mohamed Merah, was wanted in the deaths of three French paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi - all killed since March 11 in what Merah reportedly told police was an attempt to “bring France to its knees.”

Police had been trying to capture the suspect alive since a predawn raid on his apartment Wednesday in the southwestern city of Toulouse.

The killings he was accused of - and boasted about to police - have shocked France, ignited fear in moderate Muslims about stoking discrimination and may even affect the country’s upcoming presidential election.

The seven slayings, carried out in three motorcycle shooting attacks, are believed to be the first killings inspired by Islamic radical motives in France since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking in Paris, said an investigation was under way to determine whether Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent who claimed links to al Qaeda, had any accomplices.

His mother and a brother were detained a day ago by police after the mother’s computer became a critical link in tracking down Merah. The brother Abdelkader had already been linked to Iraqi Islamist networks.

Prosecutor Francois Molins said Merah burst out of his bathroom when police gingerly entered his apartment Thursday morning, wildly firing his gun about 30 times before jumping out an apartment window.

“[He] launches an assault, charging police through the apartment and firing at them with a Colt .45, continuing to advance, armed and firing, as he jumps from the balcony,” Mr. Molins said.

Merah fired “until he was hit by a retaliatory shot from the RAID [elite police unit], which felled him with a bullet to the head,” Mr. Molins said.

The prosecutor said police fired in self-defense after going in cautiously through the front door, using robot cameras to see whether there were any boobytraps.

Three members of the special squad were wounded Thursday, bringing the total of injured French officers throughout the standoff to five.

Merah, lying on the ground below his second-story apartment, was wearing a flak jacket and black djellabah robe. A Colt .45 - the type of weapon used in the three attacks - was at his side along with a sack, Mr. Molins said.

Authorities said Merah espoused a radical form of Islam and had been to Afghanistan and the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan, where he claimed to have received training from al Qaeda. He also had a long record of petty crimes in France for which he served time in prison.