France shootings suspect holed up in buildingTOULOUSE, France (AP) — A gunman claiming al-Qaida links and suspected in the killings of three Jewish children, a rabbi and three paratroopers barricaded himself in an apartment Wednesday after a predawn police raid erupted into a firefight.
TOULOUSE, France (AP) — A gunman claiming al-Qaida links and suspected in the killings of three Jewish children, a rabbi and three paratroopers barricaded himself in an apartment Wednesday after a predawn police raid erupted into a firefight.
Hundreds of police surrounded the building in the southwestern city of Toulouse after three officers were wounded while trying to arrest the 24-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, who authorities said had spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The suspect told police he belonged to al-Qaida and wanted to take revenge for Palestinian children killed in the Middle East, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said. The man also said he was angry about French military intervention abroad, Gueant said.
An Interior Ministry official identified the suspect as Mohamed or Mohammad Merah, who has been under surveillance for years for having "fundamentalist" views. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. 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.
The raid was part of France's biggest manhunt since a wave of terrorist attacks in the 1990s by Algerian extremists, and revived memories of the fear that gripped the country at the time. The chase began after France's worst-ever school shooting Monday and last week's attacks on paratroopers, a series of killings that have horrified the country and frozen the campaigning for presidential elections starting next month.
French authorities have been following several leads but said the man holed up in the Toulouse apartment building is their key suspect. 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, authorities said. Gueant said other weapons had been found in the suspect's car.
There was some confusion over the suspect's background, because a person of the same name was arrested in southern Afghanistan five years ago and escaped from his prison cell in Kandahar province in a 2008 mass jailbreak, according to Kandahar provincial spokesman Ahmad Jawed Faisal. However, Faisal says their records also show that Merah was an Afghan citizen from Kandahar province.
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. An elite squad was handling the negotiations.
The raid was part of a manhunt for a shooter who has killed seven people, including French soldiers and Jewish school children, in three attacks in the Toulouse area. In Monday's attack, the three young children and a rabbi were killed.
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