Conflict & Justice

Toulouse siege day 2: Mohammed Merah killed while resisting arrest



French policemen and firefighters stand as members of the RAID special police forces unit are still laying siege to the apartment block where Mohamed Merah, the man suspected of a series of deadly shootings, was holed up, on March 22, 2012 in Toulouse, southwestern France.



PARIS, France — French murder suspect Mohammed Merah was "shot dead" while jumping from a window, after special forces stormed his Toulouse apartment following a 32-hour stand-off with police, France Info reported.

In the wake of his death, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said an inquiry was underway to determine whether Merah had any accomplices in the killing of seven people he claimed to have carried out as "revenge."

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News of Merah's death – at 11.27 a.m. local time – came shortly after a 10-minute exchange of heavy gunfire, in which 300 rounds were used.

Speaking at the scene immediately after the raid, French Interior Minister Claude Gueant told reporters that Merah died after jumping from a window, brandishing a gun "and shooting continuously."

The special force police squad responsible for the operation, RAID, did everything in its power to capture the suspect alive, according to prosecutor François Molin. Five officers were injured in the assault.

Molin told a press conference that when French forces stormed the apartment through the front door and a window, Merah burst out of the bathroom wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying several weapons. He fired on police at least 30 times, drawing return fire from officers who had orders to shoot only in self-defense.

Merah then ran back into the bathroom, where he jumped out of the window. He was shot in the head by a police sniper, Molin said.

A post-mortem will be carried out later today.

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Earlier in the morning, Gueant told French radio RTL that all contact with Merah had been terminated after negotiations broke down overnight.

In the final hours of the siege, Gueant said authorities had not known if Merah was still alive – after he said Wednesday night he would rather die than surrender, as he had initially planned. "The last conversation negotiators had with Merah was at 10:45 p.m. last night," Gueant said.

It is understood Merah, who had a large cache of weapons in his apartment, had fired two gunshots overnight Wednesday.

A series of heavy explosions were carried out by police at regular intervals throughout the night in an effort to wear down Merah, and force him to surrender, the French news channel BFMTV reported.

Gueant expressed surprise that the overnight explosions appeared to have no effect on Merah, who was described as having "a strong temperament."

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Merah had claimed responsibility for the murders of seven people, including three children at a Jewish school, in three separate shooting attacks in south-west France this month.

Merah said he belonged to Al Qaeda and was acting to "avenge Palestinian children" and protest at French military interventions overseas.

Paris Prosecutor François Molins revealed Wednesday that Merah had planned to kill again before he was tracked down by police. He said Merah claimed to have no regrets, "except not having more time to kill more people," and that he had boasted about bringing France "to its knees.'' 

President Sarkozy has pledged stricter prosecution of people visiting pro-terrorism websites or receiving terrorism training abroad, L'Express reported. Addressing the nation shortly after Merah's death, he said that users of sites "promoting extremist ideologies" or inciting "hatred and violence" would face legal punishment, as would French citizens traveling abroad to participate in "indoctrination training."

He also called on justice officials to investigate the propagation of fundamentalist ideology in prison, which is where Merah is thought to have become radicalized.

"The people of France must overcome their outrage," Sarkozy said. "Our Muslim compatriots have nothing to do with these acts of terrorism."

The Associated Press reported that Merah was on a list of known or suspected terrorists who were prohibited from flying to the United States, according to a US counterterrorism official. He had been on the list since 2010, according to the official, along with thousands of other suspected terrorists.

The Toulouse shootings are thought to be the first killings driven by radical Islamic motives in France, since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in September 2001 in the US.

Merah was a "homegrown" terrorist, in that he operated on his own and had a history of disaffection and delinquency. Such terrorism suspects are much harder to profile, said The New York Times.

Merah reportedly made two trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan and claimed to have trained with Al Qaeda in South Waziristan. While Pakistan's foreign ministry denied the claim, a senior commander from the Pakistani Taliban said many French citizens were in North Waziristan to train. The commander said, "Most of them have dual nationalities, and we don’t know to which country they moved from here," of the foreigners training in Pakistan.

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