French Shooting Suspect Cornered in Toulouse
Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A French national suspected of killing seven people in a string of attacks was holed up in a Toulouse apartment Wednesday afternoon, surrounded by French special forces, as prosecutors said the man had been planning to strike again that day.

French police have named Mohammed Merah, A 24-year-old Toulouse resident of Algerian descent, as the suspect in the shooting deaths of four people at a Jewish school on Monday and three soldiers in two other shootings. Mr. Merah has claimed to have links with al Qaeda, telling police trying to secure his surrender that his goal was to avenge Palestinian children and object to the French army's presence in Afghanistan.

French SWAT forces surrounded the suspect in a four-story apartment building at 3 a.m. Wednesday local time. Shots were fired in the early hours outside the building and two policemen have been injured, authorities said.

A negotiator is leading talks with the man, who has told police he would surrender Wednesday afternoon. But as evening drew on Toulouse, the forces continued their standoff in the city's Côte Paveé residential neighborhood, about two miles south of the Ozar Hatorah private Jewish school where Mr. Merah is suspected of killing a teacher and three children at point-blank range on Monday.

Speaking at a press conference Wednesday afternoon in Toulouse, Paris Prosecutor François Molins said the suspect had planned other attacks, including one Wednesday "on a soldier that he had already identified."

Mr. Molins didn't give further information on the alleged plan or when or how prosecutors had learned of it.

The prosecutor also said Mr. Merah had traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan twice in the past few years. In the first case, he said, Mr. Merah was sent back to France by the U.S. army.

"During his first stay he was subjected to a random road control by the Afghan police, which led to him being handed over to the U.S. army that in turn put him on the first plane back to France," Mr. Molins said. His second trip to Pakistan was cut short after he contracted Hepatitis A, he added.

A French police official said Mr. Merah had traveled to the region in 2010 and 2011.



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