As it happened: Toulouse siege Day One

Key points

  • Toulouse siege of suspected gunman enters second day, as several hours pass without any apparent police action at the building in the north of the city.
  • Three explosions heard shortly before midnight at house where police are surrounding suspect in shooting of seven people.
  • The man inside the building where the operation is taking place has claimed affiliation to al-Qaeda, says Interior Minister Claude Gueant.
  • The man informed police he wanted to "avenge Palestinian children" and denounced French "crimes" in Afghanistan.
  • The authorities have linked the Ozar Hatorah school shootings to the killing of three soldiers last week.
  • The funerals of the rabbi and children took place in Jerusalem and a memorial service is being held for the three soldiers at a base outside Toulouse.

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    Welcome to the BBC's live coverage of the ongoing stand-off outside a building in Toulouse where French police have been trying to negotiate the surrender of a man they suspect to be behind the killing of a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school on Monday and three soldiers last week.


    The suspect's first name is Mohamed. He was indentified thanks to the e-mail message he sent to his first victim, a soldier who was selling a motorcycle, says the BBC's Hugh Schofield.


    The man inside the building where the operation is taking place has claimed affiliation to al-Qaeda, Interior Minister Claude Gueant told reporters.


    The BBC's Christian Fraser is several hundred metres from the block of flats where police have the suspect surrounded. Anti-terror police raided the flat in the early hours but were met by gunfire. Two policemen were lightly wounded. Negotiations are now said to be taking place.


    French media are reporting that the suspect tried to have the scooter he used in the attacks repainted after the first two - providing police with an important clue that helped trace him.


    Though French police have sealed off the area around the block of flats in Toulouse where the suspect is, residents of the area have not been evacuated.

    French police near aparment in Toulouse where suspect is hiding - 21 March 2012 French police are negotiating with the suspect to surrender
    Channel 4's Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Jonathan Rugman,

    tweets: At police line in Toulouse. No shooting for 45 mins. We are about 2 miles from Jewish school.


    The suspect, believed to be named Mohamed, is thought to be a 24-year-old French national. Officials say they believe he had travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan for training in militant camps.


    The man in Toulouse is suspected in the killing of three French soldiers and three school-children and a teacher - in three separate attacks. The children and the teacher had joint French-Israeli citizenship. Their bodies have now arrived in Israel for burial.


    The three French soldiers, all of North African origin, are also to be buried later on Wednesday.


    The BBC has compiled profiles of the seven people killed and two wounded in the attacks.


    French police have been negotiating with the suspect Mohamed through the door of his apartment, on the ground or first floor of a five-storey block of flats in Toulouse.


    French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said the suspect's brother had also been arrested.


    French police are investigating whether other people were involved in the attacks.


    The attacks, taking place during campaigning for presidential elections, have triggered one of the largest manhunts in French history. Main candidates President Nicolas Sarkozy and rival Francois Hollande temporarily suspended campaigning.


    Europe 1 radio is reporting that the suspect was previously arrested in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for criminal - but not terrorism related - acts. Europe 1 cites sources close to the investigation.


    The police raid began in the early hours and is still unfolding. See images from the scene.


    Marine Le Pen, presidential candidate for the far-right National Front, says the "fundamentalist threat has been underestimated" in France.


    Le Figaro reports that the suspect was already known to the police in Toulouse for involvement in petty crime. He was one of the suspects French police considered after the first two attacks, on the soldiers, AFP news agency says.


    French media have linked the suspect to a group called Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride) that was banned by Interior Minister Gueant last month.


    Mr Gueant told French TV that the man informed police he wanted to "avenge Palestinian children". The suspect also denounced French "crimes" in Afghanistan.


    The interior minister also said the suspect has links with "Salafists and Jihadists".


    French media are reporting that the suspect's brother who was arrested was picked up by police at a different location in Toulouse. A second brother has presented himself to the police.

    French police near the Toulouse apartment where the suspect in the killing of seven people is surrounded - 21 March 2012 A closer look at the Toulouse neighbourhood where the suspect is holed up

    Investigators have said the suspect was identified because of an email message sent to his first victim about buying a scooter. The message, sent from the suspect's brother's account, set up an appointment at which the soldier was killed, on 11 March, sources told AFP news agency.


    More now from Interior Minister Gueant: The suspect is negotiating with police and has thrown a Colt 45 pistol out of the window.


    A .45 calibre pistol was used in all three attacks, police sources have said. We have more background on all three attacks.


    Interior Minister Gueant has said the suspect told police he will surrender later in the day, in the afternoon - French media report.


    Although the suspect has thrown a pistol out of the window of the apartment where he is surrounded, he is believed to have other weapons.


    If you're just joining us, welcome to the BBC's live coverage of the ongoing stand-off outside a building in Toulouse where French police have been trying to negotiate the surrender of a man they suspect to be behind the killing of a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school on Monday and three soldiers last week.


    The suspect's mother, who is of Algerian origin, is at the scene of the stand-off trying to persuade her son to surrender.

    0816: Christian Fraser BBC News, Toulouse

    says an explosion has been heard from the building in Toulouse where the stand-off is taking place.


    Interior Minister Claude Gueant says the suspect is still heavily armed, despite throwing a pistol out the window, but police want to take him alive.

    0821: Christian Fraser BBC News, Toulouse

    says the mayor of the city has been speaking and described the suspect as "determined". The mayor indicated the stand-off may continue for some time.


    The funerals for the three French-Israeli children and teacher who were killed at a Jewish school on Monday have begun in Jerusalem, AFP news agency says.


    The suspect has given up a pistol, but still has powerful weapons including an Uzi machine gun and a Kalashnikov assault rifle, Interior Minister Claude Gueant has told French media.


    The suspect's pistol was exchanged for a communications device, Mr Gueant said.

    0835: Rupert Wingfield-Hayes BBC Middle East Correspondent

    at the cemetery in Jerusalem where the funerals for four victims of the Toulouse killings are taking place, says a large crowd has gathered, many of them from the city's big French-speaking community.


    While the funerals for the three children and the teacher killed on Monday at a Jewish school have begun in Jerusalem, President Sarkozy and his Socialist rival Francois Hollande are both due to attend the memorial ceremony late on Wednesday for the three soldiers killed in two earlier attacks.


    A source close to the investigation says the suspect's name is Mohammed Merah and he is a French national of Algerian origin, AFP news agency reports.


    Interior Minister Gueant has said the suspect wants to talk and has been recounting his criminal past, but has no particular demands.


    More from Mr Gueant on the investigation that led police to the suspect - he said some 575 potential buyers answered the first victim's internet advertisement for a scooter. Police looked through them all and discovered one was sent from an IP address in the name of the suspect's mother. The suspect was already being watched because of his known Islamist radicalisation. Mr Gueant said police made the link on Monday after the school shootings.


    We've just published a profile of the suspect, Mohammed Merah.


    Negotiations are continuing to secure the surrender of the suspect, Mr Merah, but a short while ago an explosion was heard. The BBC's correspondent in Toulouse, Christian Fraser, says the blast sounded like a stun grenade.


    Buses have now arrived to evacuate residents from the vicinity of the stand-off.


    More on the explosion that was heard a little while ago at the scene of the stand-off. AFP news agency is now reporting that police said they used a controlled explosion to move a car.


    We're expecting French President Nicolas Sarkozy to make a statement on events in Toulouse very soon.

    Dov Elberg, in Grenoble, France

    tweets: Wish I was in Jerusalem today for the burial. All my thoughts and prayers go to the families.

    0925: Christian Fraser BBC News, Toulouse

    says all gas in the area of the stand-off has been cut off as a precaution - in case the suspect tries to blow himself up.


    The speaker of Israel's parliament, Reuben Rivlin, has given a eulogy at the funeral in Jerusalem for the four Jewish victims. "The Jewish people face wild and insatiable animals, wild animals made crazy by their hatred," he was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

    0931: Rupert Wingfield-Hayes BBC Middle East Correspondent in Jerusalem

    says there have been very distressing scenes at the funeral, where the families of the Toulouse dead have been arriving. The mother of seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego arrived in an ambulance and had to be carried out. Meanwhile, the pregnant wife of slain Rabbi Jonathan Sandler - who has lost two small sons and her husband - has decided not to return to France.


    The head of the French Muslim Council, Mohammed Moussaoui, says: "These acts are in total contradiction with the foundations of this religion". In remarks quoted by AFP he added: "France's Muslims are offended by this claim of belonging to this religion."

    Funeral in Jerusalem for four French-Israeli victims of Toulouse murders - 21 March 2012 Mourners crowd a cemetery in Jerusalem for the funeral of four Jewish victims of the Toulouse murders
    Avi Mayer, in Jerusalem, Israel

    tweets: France FM Juppe ends eulogy at Toulouse victims' funeral in Hebrew - "may their souls be bound in the bond of life".


    France's Interior Minister Claude Gueant says the suspect is no longer talking to the police.


    Mr Gueant also says two sisters and two brothers of the suspect, Mohammed Merah are now being held by police.


    The interior minister confirms the suspect has visited both Afghanistan and Pakistan.


    Mr Gueant says the suspect had been followed for several years by France's domestic intelligence service, and that a number of weapons have been found in a car parked near the surrounded apartment.


    French media say Mr Merah's neighbours in Toulouse are now being evacuated, as the stand-off with police continues.

    The mother of seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego (bottom right) mourns during the joint funeral service in Jerusalem for her daughter and the other three victims - 21 March 2012

    Mourning at the funeral in Jerusalem for the four French-Israeli victims shot in Toulouse on Monday at a Jewish school.

    Alan Thomas, in France

    writes: You should not lose sight of the fact that Monday, the day of the killings at the Jewish school, was the 50th anniversary of the end of the Algerian war, an event not marked in any official way in France, but certainly remembered by Algerians.

    1010: Rupert Wingfield-Hayes BBC Middle East Correspondent in Jerusalem

    says people have been speaking at the funeral in Jerusalem for about 90 minutes now, many of them in tears.

    France 24 International Affairs Editor Douglas Herbert

    tweets: French media using term "suicide-by-cop" to suggest cornered Toulouse suspect would rather be killed by police than surrender.


    French President Nicolas is speaking now. He has congratulated the police services for their speedy investigation.


    Mr Sarkozy said he had spoken with representatives of France's Muslim and Jewish communities. He said he told them "terrorism can not break our community".


    The French president said "we should be united and not give in to vengeance. We owe this to the victims who have been killed in cold blood".


    Mr Sarkozy spoke quite briefly and took no questions. He said he would attend the memorial service later on Wednesday for the three French soldiers killed in the first two attacks.


    Palestinian representatives in France have condemned the "odious attack" on the Jewish school which killed four people. Remember, the suspect Mohammed Merah told police besieging him in his apartment that he wanted to "avenge Palestinian children".

    Anonymous, in Toulouse

    writes: This mess has been going on long enough. It has caused chaos in an otherwise peaceful city. Killing innocent children can never be justified. It has come as a shock to people living in this town. The security has been drastically increased, with police and military everywhere around the town centre.


    The Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad has condemned the attack on the Jewish school: "It is time for these criminals to stop marketing their terrorist acts in the name of Palestine and to stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children who only ask for a decent life".


    The suspect trained with Pakistani Taliban militants before going to Afghanistan to fight with the insurgents, Le Monde newspaper cites unnamed sources as saying.


    Far-right Front Nationale presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said on France 24 Television: "Now we need to fight this war against these politico-religious fundamentalists who are killing our children, who are killing our Christian children, our young Christian men, our young Muslim men and who killed these Jewish children two days ago."


    A man who claimed to have carried out the shootings telephoned France's continuous news channel France24 before the police raid. According to one of the channel's editors, he claimed to have filmed Monday's attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse and planned to put the film on the web. You can see an interview with the France24 editor, in French, on YouTube.


    According to Reuters news agency, the head of Kandahar prison in Afghanistan, says the suspect Mohammed Merah, escaped from the prison in a mass Taliban jailbreak.


    Reuters report that the suspect had been serving a three year sentence when he escaped from jail, quoting the director of Kandahar prison.

    James Stocks, in Toulouse

    writes: We are inundated with military, police, journalists, helicopters and countless extra security checks. Toulouse is going crazy!


    BBC World Have Your Say is on air now hearing the conversation between people in Toulouse following events. Listen live. You can also contribute to the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.


    Security analyst Claude Moniquet tells the BBC World Service that Afghan intelligence services would have alerted the French authorities to the suspect, Mohammed Merah, because of his trips to Afghanistan.


    The BBC understands that President Sarkozy will now meet the investigators in Toulouse behind closed doors and then go the ceremony in Montauban for the dead soldiers. Initially, he was supposed to go see the investigators after the ceremony.

    Soldiers carry coffin of Paratrooper killed in attack near Toulouse

    French paratroopers carry the coffin of their comrade Abel Chennouf at his funeral in Montauban.

    1144: David Loyn BBC News, Kabul

    has more on the Kandahar connection with French suspect: the director of Kandahar prison Gulam Farooq has told the BBC that Mohammed Merah escaped from the jail in 2008. He had been sentenced to three years in prison after being arrested carrying bomb-making equipment. He was among several hundred prisoners who escaped in a Taliban assault on the jail.


    People from apartments neighbouring the suspect's have now been evacuated, AFP news agency says.


    A source close to the investigation has said police have re-established contact with Mr Merah, under siege in his apartment, according to AFP news agency. Contact was broken off for several hours.


    tweets: French police say call to France 24 by man claiming to be Mohammed Merah is "credible".


    BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris: Mohammed Merah appeared in court two weeks ago for driving without a licence. His lawyer, Christian Etelin, says Merah's outward behaviour is "gentle, courteous and civilised".


    A leading French commentator, Pierre Haski, has been speaking to the Newshour programme on BBC World Service about Mr Merah: "The mystery here is that he was found to have quite a good arsenal of weapons, war weapons, and given that he was under surveillance it's not clear how this could have escaped the attention of the authorities."


    Mr Haski also says the far-right presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, kept "very silent" while there was a suspicion that the killer might come from the extreme right. But now that he is thought to be an Islamist extremist she has become the first candidate to break the truce of the past few days and make political capital from what has happened.

    Sunday Telegraph Deputy Editor Tim Jotischky

    tweets: If it's true the Toulouse terror suspect had been followed "for several years" then French security services may face some difficult questions.

    The partner of paratrooper bel Chennouf is comforted at his funeral in Montauban

    The pregnant partner of paratrooper Abel Chennouf is comforted at his funeral in Montauban. A memorial service for him and two comrades will be held later.

    Stephen Murphy, in Toulouse

    writes: There is a shadow of sadness and anger in the city and it's very tense. It's fantastic news, however, that they have located him, so let's hope they end this and he is correctly punished for his crimes.

    Breaking News

    France's BFM TV channel reports the suspect has been arrested.


    BFM TV - He was arrested in the building, but not clear if he surrendered or was overpowered


    President Sarkozy has arrived near the scene where police have been besieging a suspected Islamist militant killer of seven people.


    BFM TV - explosives have been found in the car of the suspect's brother.


    The stand-off in Toulouse has been going on for nearly 12 hours, with large numbers of French police surrounding the Toulouse apartment of the suspect Mohammed Merah. French media have been reporting that he has been arrested, but there's no official confirmation of that.


    French Interior Minister Claude Gueant earlier said that Mr Merah told police he would surrender in the afternoon.

    1354: Breaking News

    Interior Minister Gueant denies that the suspect has been arrested, Reuters news agency says, quoting a spokesman.


    BFM TV, the channel which originally reported the arrest, has now rolled back, saying there are doubts.


    A neighbour of Mr Merah's described the suspect as a polite man who liked football and motorbikes and didn't seem particularly religious. "He isn't the big bearded guy that you can imagine, you know the cliche. When you know a person well you just can't believe they could have done something like this," the neighbour told Reuters news agency.


    Mr Gueant, the interior minister, has told AFP news agency that: "The negotiations continue. They are still under way."


    We have more details of the suspect, Mohammed Merah, and how police tracked him down, in this profile.

    Cynthia Johnson in Toulouse

    writes: The timing of this incident couldn't have been worse for diversity and tolerance in France. Now Sarkozy will continue to feed and encourage the kind of far right discourse that he has been leaning towards before these events: he has to court Front National supporters to win the election.


    The name of the suspect, Mohammed Merah, is one of the top trending searches on Twitter worldwide. French tweeters are noticing that he already has a Wikipedia entry in his name.

    1439: The BBC's Richard Galpin in Toulouse,

    says that with just a month to go before the French presidential election this incident could well affect the campaign. All the reports suggesting that the intelligence agencies had known about him for years will raise serious questions.


    According to French newspaper Liberation, the suspect, Mohammed Merah, tried to join the army twice without success, first in 2008, according to an unnamed defence source.


    Liberation is also reporting that, according to the suspect's lawyer, he was sentenced to a month in prison at the end of February after driving without a driving licence and was due before the judge again in April.


    A Jewish community leader in the Toulouse area says President Sarkozy told her and other Jewish leaders that the suspect was preparing to kill again. "He planned to kill this morning," Mr Sarkozy told Nicole Yardeni, head of the CRIF Jewish group, AFP news agency reports.


    President Sarkozy is attending the memorial of the two paratroopers killed at Montauban, and the soldier killed a few days before in Toulouse. He is standing motionless as their flag-draped coffins are carried past.


    Mr Sarkozy says that the mission of French soldiers is to protect others. "A French soldier knows he can die for France, and for her values. He knows the value of sacrifice, and the sense of duty. A French soldier knows how to look death in the face," he says.


    Mr Sarkozy, speaking in Montauban, adds: "They were killed because they were French soldiers, members of the French army. It is the whole of the French state that has been touched... All French soldiers serve the same flag, regardless of the colour of their skin."


    "This was not the death they had prepared for, this was not a death on the battlefield, it was a terrorist execution," Mr Sarkozy says.


    As he recounts the foreign missions of the young soldiers who were killed, Mr Sarkozy's voice seems close to breaking.


    The French president is standing in front of the coffins as the national anthem plays.

    Rondi Adamson, in Toronto, Canada

    tweets: Listening to Sarkozy speak at the funeral of the soldiers killed in Montauban. Got to give him credit - he hits exactly the right note.

    Rupert Wingfield-Hayes the BBC's Middle East Correspondent in Jerusalem

    says that the killings at the Jewish school in southern France has deeply affected the French-speaking community in Israel. There is a feeling among the community that there is still a great deal of anti-Semitism in Europe, that perhaps it is safer for them in Israel, he says.

    French policeman in Toulouse - 21 March 2012

    A French policeman holds a bag of sealed evidence near the apartment in Toulouse where the suspect is besieged

    1529: Eric Maurice, in Paris

    tweets: French TV is reporting from Toulouse and Montauban at the same time, giving a sense of national tragedy storytelling.


    If you're just joining us, welcome to the BBC's live coverage of the ongoing stand-off outside a building in Toulouse where French police have been trying to negotiate the surrender of a man they suspect to be behind the killing of a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school on Monday and three soldiers last week.


    "We must fight this extraordinary propaganda against Israel and Jews everywhere, against innocents, which leads these people to perpetrate such barbaric acts," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.

    Daniel Mustieles, in the UK

    tweets: With regards to the Toulouse situation, I do not understand the correlation between being a part of al-Qaeda and avenging Palestinian children.


    In return, Mr Juppe, attending the funerals of the members of a Jewish family gunned down in Toulouse, has said France is committed to fighting such terrorism. "It's a threat for you, it's a threat for us and I think for the world," he said.


    The events in Toulouse have enabled Nicolas Sarkozy to play the role he likes best, a man of action and decision in a crisis, says BBC Europe editor Gavin Hewitt. But the first round of voting in the presidential election is more than a month away and the election will ultimately turn on leadership, the economy and whether voters want five more years of Mr Sarkozy.


    Mohammed Mera's lawyer, Christian Etelin, says his client is a person full of contradictions and complexities: "He is what I know of him but he is also the person who has behaved in a horrible manner - or is thought to have behaved in that manner".


    According to the French prosecutor, Francois Molins, Mohammed Merah says he was trained by al-Qaeda in Waziristan and visited Afghanistan twice, but, he also adds, Mr Merah seems "atypical" and "cannot be attached to a structured organisation".


    In describing the character of the suspect, the French prosecutor says he is a person of "extreme violence", who could remain alone for prolonged periods of time.


    The BBC's Hugh Schofield, in Paris, says that police say they have found the camera which was used to film the gunman's attacks.


    According to the prosecutor, the gunman's targets for Wednesday were another soldier and two policemen, the BBC's Hugh Schofield reports.

    1615: France 24 International Affairs Editor Douglas Herbert

    tweets: Toulouse suspect initially reported saying he'd surrender by 2.30pm local time. Now French prosecutor says by "this evening".


    The French Sports Minister David Douillet requests that "a minute's silence be observed at each competitive sporting event - both professional and amateur - up until the evening of 25 March to honour the memory" of the victims, French newspaper Liberation reports.

    The French president attends the memorial service of three French soldiers killed in south-west France The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy was among the guests at the memorial service of the three French soldiers killed in south-west France

    French police have found the scooter they believe was used by the gunman, along with two two helmets used at the different crime scenes, Agence France Presse reports.


    Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the UK's Ramadhan Foundation, tells BBC World that there are serious questions that the French intelligence agencies must answer. "He'd been monitored for the last four years, according to news reports - why wasn't he stopped? Why wasn't he monitored? Muslims across the world find what he did was abhorent, we must not allow Marine Le Pen or any of the far-right to take political advantage of this," he said.


    French media report that police have made "several attempts" to enter the flat where Mohammed Merah is holed up but, they say, each time, shots have been fired.

    French journalist Nabila Ramdani

    tweets: Jewish leaders have appealed for reason, joining a silent march with their Muslim counterparts on Sunday in memory of Merah's victims.

    1703: Christian Fraser BBC News, Toulouse

    says this has been the biggest manhunt France has known. The owner of a local Yamaha motorbike garage who tipped off police and had known Mohammed Merah for years described him as "a normal kid", if "a bit more unruly than the others". There was nothing, he told our correspondent, that would suggest he was capable of such crimes.

    Crowds surrounding the four bodies at the funeral Mourners gather at the funeral service in Jerusalem

    Images from the funerals of the victims of the Toulouse Jewish school shooting, which took place in Jerusalem, attended by hundreds of people.


    The French immigration historian Patrick Weil, speaking to France's La Depeche, says that the gunman's attacks were highly symbolic. "He attacked French integration. He attacked those who represent the fundamental pillars of the French Republic - its principles of equality and its respect for diversity."


    Islamic expert Mathieu Guidere tells France's Le Point that the attacks in south-west France do share some of the hallmarks of al-Qaeda including, for example, the symbolism of the targets and the significance of the chosen date, he says.

    Jason in the US

    writes: Only in France can it take so long to get this person out from an apartment. In America, the police would fire tear gas into the flat, use concussion or stun grenades and enter the apartment with force. We would not sit around and negotiate with the suspect for hours and hours.


    Sarah Crosby, from Toulouse, France, emails: "Sadly anti-Semitism and anti-Islamism are equally rife in this neck of the woods; we are living in a tinder-box".

    Bomb squad officers at the scene

    Members of the Bomb Squad near the scene. About 300 police officers are said to be involved in the operation.


    According to France's Le Telegramme, Mr Merah had shown his capacity for violence in the past. The newspaper says it has spoken to a former neighbour, Malika, who told of a young man he locked in his flat, forcing him to watch videos of decapitations.


    The owner of a Yamaha dealership who provided the name of the suspect to police said Mr Merah had raised his suspicions by asking about information on the geo-localisation chip in his bike. "He mentioned in an off-hand way that he had just taken apart his scooter to repaint it," Christian Dellacherie said.


    According to AFP, police also managed to identify Mr Merah through his brother's internet address. He reportedly contacted one of the three soldiers he is suspected of having killed using the address.


    According to France's Le Figaro, Mohammed Merah used a phone box to call the news channel France 24. In a 10 minute conversation with a journalist at the TV station, he claimed responsibility for the acts, the Paris prosecutor Francois Molins has said. The journalist said the man she spoke to was "very eloquent" and gave specific details about the killings.


    Barack Obama has phoned President Sarkozy, AFP reports: France and the USA "are determined to fight terrorism".


    Le Monde reports that President Obama expressed his personal condolences and those of the American people to Mr Sarkozy, asking him to pass them on to the victims' families.

    1905: Richard Galpin BBC News, Toulouse

    says the question now is will efforts to talk to the suspect continue throughout the night, or will the police wait until he is tired and then use force to break into the apartment.

    Scene outside apartment block at 1910 GMT

    This is the scene outside the apartment in Toulouse where the suspected gunman has now been holed up for 17 hours.


    Soren Seelow, a journalist for Le Monde at the scene in Toulouse, tweets that the suspect's former lawyer, Madame Etelin, has been talking to journalists there. She says she has known him since he was 16 or 17 and he appeared at a juvenile court.

    "He always felt part of those young people who are treated unfairly," she told reporters. He was only moderately violent - she never thought he would fall into "ideological delirium".


    France's interior minister has told AFP that Mr Merah said he had accepted "a general mission to carry out an attack in France".


    Claude Gueant told TF1 television that the suspect claimed to have received instructions from al-Qaeda in Pakistan and to have turned down a suicide mission, according to AFP.


    Ebba Kolondo, the journalist at France 24 who spoke to a man claiming to be the perpetrator of the killings, has been telling the BBC about the phone call.

    She said the call was passed to her at about 1am as the editor on duty in the newsroom. The man did not give his name but said that he wanted to take responsibility for the attacks in Montauban and Toulouse. He said he was allied to al-Qaeda and that it was an al-Qaeda cell operating in France. He gave certain details about the killings and how many shots were fired.

    Initially she thought the call was a hoax, she said. The caller told Ms Kolondo that he had filmed all the attacks and planned to put the footage on the internet. She described the man as extremely well spoken, exceedingly polite, and said he tried to answer all her questions.

    Keya Brown from Manchester, UK,

    writes: I lived in Toulouse for many years; I was there when the AZF chemical plant exploded killing more than 30. The people of Toulouse have had more than their fair share of tragedy over the years, but they are proud, compassionate and resilient.

    2007: The BBC's Richard Galpin, in Toulouse,

    says that there is no sign of an end to the siege. The question for the French police forces is how long do they let this go on for and does there come a point when they decide that they should go in?


    France's Interior Minister Claude Gueant has repeated what French prosecutors said earlier in the day - telling France-2 TV that Mohammed Merah plans to turn himself in at night "to be more discreet".


    Mr Merah was a "normal" boy who became radicalised via the internet, according to a member of the family named only as Laela by French newspaper Le Parisien.

    Liz from Bristol, UK,

    writes: I arrived at Toulouse Airport this morning to see armed police from the shuttle bus. There were yet more soldiers patrolling the airport. I hope he gives himself up soon.


    French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen says the attack on a Jewish school showed it was time to "wage war" on Islamist groups that had flourished due to a lax government. "The fundamentalist threat has been underestimated," Le Pen said on TV news channel i>tele.


    AFP reports that street lighting has been switched off in the besieged neighbourhood of Toulouse for the past half an hour, in a move that could be in anticipation of an assault.


    A friend of Mr Merah described him as a "normal young man". "Three weeks ago he was in at a nightclub," 31-year-old Mehdi Nedder told AP. "And this morning I hear we're talking about al-Qaeda. How can you change like that in three weeks?" he said.


    Another friend of Mr Merah, named only as Kamel, remembers playing football with him as the two grew up in Toulouse. "[He] was respectful and generous," 24-year-old Kamel told AP. "We never spoke about weapons, religion or politics, but cars, bikes, girls and sports."

    France Police officers and firefighters are silhouetted at night next to the apartment building The Toulouse streets where Mohammed Merah is barricaded in his apartment have been plunged into darkness as the street lights have been turned off.

    France's interior minister said that the suspect had intended to kill another soldier on Monday. "Unable to find one, he set upon the school, this Jewish school, these massacred children," Claude Gueant told LCI TV.

    A TV grab released by French TV France 2 purports to show an image of Mohammed Merah

    Is this the first image of the suspect Mohammed Merah? It has just been released by French TV France 2.


    Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has been speaking to an Israeli radio station. According to France's Le Figaro she told private radio station 90FM that this case: "only confirms what I have been warning of for years: the development of Islamic fundamentalism in our country which is underestimated by public powers".


    Another image released by French television network France 2 claiming to show suspect Mohammed Merah.

    An image released by French television network France 2 purporting to show shooting suspect Mohammed Merah

    Defence Minister Gerard Longuet has told French television network TF1 that he does not think the siege will continue in the long term. "This will not last for days, because of physical and mental fatigue. All the experience with crazed gunmen like this is that they stop at some point," he said.


    More from the defence minister: "What we want is to capture him alive, so that we can bring him to justice, know his motivations and hopefully find out who were his accomplices, if there were any," he said.

    Tom, in Toulouse,

    emails: I teach in a school in the Jolimont area of Toulouse, fairly close to the Jewish school. Everyone here is pretty shaken up by the whole ordeal and wants the whole thing just to end. I would disagree with those that claim that anti-Semitism is rife here; quite the contrary, I've always believed Toulouse to have a very multicultural feel to it.


    Mohammed Merah's lawyer, Christian Etelin, said that he warned him that a trip to Afghanistan was likely to have been noticed by the authorities and would mark him out as suspicious. "You know that if you go to Afghanistan, you will probably be under surveillance now," he remembered saying to Mr Merah, AP reports.


    Le Monde reporter Soren Seelow says the assault could happen at any moment. No-one dares to leave, even to the nearest cafe, just five minutes away.


    Soren Seelow tweets that he has heard three explosions, accompanied by three bright lights, like flashes.


    Soren Seelow reports that everything seems calm after the three blasts, with no movement visible from where he is.


    Toulouse's deputy mayor has told Reuters that the assault on the apartment has begun.


    The BBC's Richard Galpin, in Toulouse, says that there had been much speculation that if there was to be an operation, it would take place overnight. It is now almost midnight and the siege has been going on for more than 20 hours.


    The 3 blasts happened at 2334 local time (2234 GMT). Orange flashes lit up the night sky.


    French media are speculating that the explosions could have been to blow down the apartment door - or that they could simply be "psychological intimidation".


    Reporters on the ground near the apartment say that no further explosions or gunfire have been heard since the three blasts 25 minutes ago.


    The French interior ministry has told some journalists that the explosions were to put pressure on the gunman - rather than indicating the start of an assault.

    Screen grab from video of explosion This image (taken from video) shows how one of the explosions illuminated the buildings.

    An interior ministry spokesman confirms to Reuters that the blasts were to intimidate the suspect.


    Interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet has told Reuters that the blasts "were moves to intimidate the gunman who seems to have changed his mind and does not want to surrender".


    A police car with its sirens wailing has just driven through the gaggle of journalists waiting by the cordon.


    Le Monde's Soren Seelow tweets that things have returned to calm, and that some sources suggest negotiations between the suspect and the police have resumed.


    Not much has happened in the past hour - but now gunshots have been heard at the site of the stand-off.


    Several gunshots and an explosion were heard at the building where the suspect is holed up. Police have been trying to get him to turn himself in after he fired through the door at them earlier.


    Just to recap, the French interior ministry said three blasts heard tonight were intended to intimidate the suspect. A full scale assault on the flat has not yet taken place, it said.


    Defence expert Thomas Withington, who lives in Toulouse, tells the BBC that he suspects the explosions were stun grenades. He says people in the city are dealing with the situation well.


    Still no sign of a full-scale assault on suspect's building. "It's not as simple as that. We are waiting," Toulouse prosecutor Michel Valet says.


    All appears quiet around the building where Mohammed Merah has now been holed up for 24 hours. Police attempted to arrest him at around 0300 on Wednesday, but held back when a gun battle erupted, injuring two policemen.


    It emerges that the suspect, Mohammed Merah, was not jailed in Afghanistan in 2007, as was being reported earlier. This was based on information from Kandahar prison chief Ghulam Faruq.


    John Irish, a journalist from the Reuters news agency at the scene, tells the BBC there is a feeling of shock and surprise among the residents of Toulouse.


    John Irish described what he heard: "Around 2.30 there was an exchange of fire. It wasn't very long, I think two shots on each side, and then about 20 minutes ago and that was even less. That was I think one shot."


    "French anti-terror police play a waiting game" is Thursday morning's headline in Le Monde


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