French gunman shot dead by police
An Islamic extremist, suspected of killing seven people, was shot dead by police as he leapt from the window of his apartment with gun in hand in a dramatic end to a 32-hour siege. A masked French SWAT team slipped into the apartment sparking a firefight that ended the stand-off.
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 pre-dawn raid on his apartment in the south-western 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 murders, carried out in three motorcycle shooting attacks, are believed to be the first killings inspired by Islamic radical motives in France since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking in Paris, said an investigation was under way to see if Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent who claimed links to al-Qaida, 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 Merah down. The brother Abdelkader had already been linked to Iraqi Islamist networks.
Prosecutor Francois Molins said Merah burst out of his bathroom when police carefully entered his apartment, 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," 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," Molins said.
The prosecutor said police fired in self-defence after going in cautiously through the front door, using robot cameras to see if there were any boobytraps. Three members of the special squad were wounded, bringing the total of injured French officers throughout the stand-off to five.
Merah had made "extremely explicit films" of all three deadly attacks, video since viewed by police, and claimed to have posted them online, the prosecutor 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-Qaida. He also had a long record of petty crimes in France for which he served time in prison.