France shootings: Toulouse gunman killed by sniper

Sustained gunfire was heard from the apartment building where Mohammed Merah was hiding

A police sniper shot and killed the gunman who carried out a spate of murders in southern France, prosecutors say, after a 32-hour siege in Toulouse.

Mohammed Merah, 23, who claimed to have al-Qaeda training, opened fire on police commandos after they stormed into his flat at 09:30 GMT.

Prosecutors said he was shot in the head as he tried to flee.

Merah carried out three separate attacks, killing four people at a Jewish school and three soldiers.

He had said he was acting to "avenge Palestinian children" and protest against French military interventions overseas.

Analysis

Mohammed Merah's violent brand of ideology is revealed in the gruesome video he recorded of the three attacks which began on 11 March.

As he shoots one of three soldiers who were murdered, he apparently says: "You kill my brothers, I kill you."

"Brothers" is presumably a reference to the Taliban in Afghanistan, where French troops make up part of the Nato forces in the country.

Like many militants inspired by the radical ideology of al-Qaeda and other groups, Merah seems to have believed he would be rewarded if he was killed.

Prosecutor Francois Molins confirmed in a news conference that a police marksman had killed Merah as he tried to jump out of the bathroom window.

"The examination of the body shows that he was shot in the head and that he was wearing a bullet-proof vest," Mr Molins said, "and had a gun covered by a pair of jeans."

"Material to make Molotov cocktails were found on his balcony."

Mr Molins said a Colt 45 handgun was found next to his body, and he estimated that Merah had fired 30 bullets as the commandos broke in.

The prosecutor also confirmed that Merah had filmed all three of the attacks that he carried out.

Earlier President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a televised address that everything had been done to try to bring Merah to justice, but it was decided that no more lives could be put at risk.

He also vowed a new crackdown on those who visited "hate or terrorism" web sites or travelled abroad to be indoctrinated in terrorism.

Arms cache

Interior Minister Claude Gueant said officers had thrown grenades and entered by the door and windows of the flat.

Mohammed Merah

Image on France 2 TV said to show Mohammed Merah
  • French citizen of Algerian extraction, aged 23
  • Has criminal record in France for non-terrorist crimes
  • Has described himself as an al-Qaeda member and has spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan

After surveying the scene and finding no sign of the suspect, they went towards the bathroom, moving slowly as they were wary of booby-traps.

When officers tried to find out if there was anyone in the bathroom, the suspect came out firing several weapons.

Mr Gueant said the suspect was "shooting very violently. The bursts of gunfire were frequent and hard".

He said one of the officers involved told him "he had never seen such a violent assault".

Two officers were reported wounded in the attack.

Before police went in, officials had warned that Merah was armed with a Kalashnikov high-velocity rifle, a mini-Uzi 9mm machine pistol, several handguns and possibly grenades.

The authorities set off several explosions overnight to intimidate Merah.

Street lights were switched off in the vicinity of the building on Wednesday evening and surrounding areas evacuated.

In his TV address, Mr Sarkozy announced an investigation into whether Merah had accomplices and into possible Islamist indoctrination practices in prisons.

Claude Gueant: "Merah jumped through a window while shooting"

"The French should not give free rein to anger," he said.

"Our Muslim compatriots have nothing to do with the crazy actions of a terrorist. We should not embark on any stigmatisation."

Merah, of Algerian descent, claimed to have received al-Qaeda training in Pakistan's Waziristan area, and also said he had been to Afghanistan.

Commentators have criticised the intelligence services for failing to track Merah closely enough.

But Mr Gueant defended their record, saying intelligence agencies track many extremists, but such isolated cases were very difficult to defend against.

"These so-called lone wolves are formidable opponents," he said.

Video footage

The killings took place in and around Toulouse in three separate incidents earlier this month.

Crime scene investigators

Hunt for French killer

France has seen an unprecedented security clampdown after a lone gunman killed seven people, including three children, in three separate attacks in the south-west of the country.

Police tracked down the main suspect after investigating the movements of a stolen scooter used by the killer to make his escape following shootings in Toulouse and nearby Montauban.

Yamaha T-MAX scooter

6 March: Scooter stolen

A Yamaha T-Max scooter that proves key to tracking down Mohammad Merah, the main suspect in the targeted killings, is stolen.

Police say Merah or an associate later contacted a garage to find out how to switch off the stolen bike's GPS tracker device.

After the second attack, Merah had the black bike resprayed white. Suspicious garage staff contacted the police.

Imad Ibn-Ziaten

11 March: Gunman strikes

French soldier Imad Ibn-Ziaten is lured to a meeting in Toulouse after advertising his motorbike for sale.

The suspect apparently uses his brother's email address to arrange a meeting with Sgt Ibn-Ziaten. The paratrooper, who is not in uniform, is shot dead at close range.

Police say the weapons used to kill the soldier were the same as those employed in the subsequent attacks in Montauban and Toulouse.

Abel Chennouf and Mohamed Legouade

15 March: Double killing

Four days later, the gunman strikes again using the same weapons and riding the stolen scooter.

The assassin targets paratroopers in the nearby garrison town of Montauban. Abel Chennouf (left) and Mohamed Legouade are killed as they wait by a cash machine. A third soldier is critically injured.

Police say the killer is a meticulous operator. The clip for the gun used in all three attacks has no fingerprints or DNA on it.

Police outside Jewish school

19 March: Jewish children killed

Another four days pass before the killer targets a Jewish school in Toulouse.

Arriving on a white scooter, the killer guns down Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his two sons Gabriel (aged four) and Arieh (five), and seven-year-old Myriam Monsonego at close range.

Reports suggest the killer wore a video camera, apparently to record his actions. A crash helmet and visor hid his identity.

Apartment block

21 March: Suspect cornered

An email address used by the suspected killer leads the police to this apartment block in Toulouse.

A raid on the apartment on the first floor is launched in the early hours of the morning. Police officers who knock on the door of an apartment are fired on - but not seriously hurt.

The heavily armed gunman gives up one of his guns in exchange for a mobile phone to speak to police. Residents in the apartment block are evacuated from the area.

Apartment block

22 March: Suspect dead

The siege ends in dramatic fashion with a gun battle between Merah and special police units who stormed the apartment after a 32-hour standoff.

Merah was hiding in his bathroom when the police entered the apartment. When a video probe was sent into the bathroom he emerged firing several guns at once.

In the end, Merah jumped from a window with a gun in his hand, continuing to fire. He was found dead on the ground.

On 11 March, a soldier was shot and killed while waiting to see a man about selling his motorcycle.

Days later, two soldiers were shot and killed and a third was wounded while waiting at a cash machine.

Then earlier this week, three children and an adult were shot and killed outside a Jewish school.

Mr Molins said the authorities had recovered videos from Merah's apartment showing the attacks.

"These films are extremely explicit, as we were able to verify yesterday, in which evidently we see him during his encounter with a soldier who he shot twice, saying to him: 'You kill my brothers, I kill you'," said Mr Molins.

"Then we also see him killing the soldiers in Montauban in an extremely violent scene, fleeing on his scooter whilst shouting 'Allahu akbar' [God is great]."

Mr Molins said there was also footage of the school massacre, and added that all of Merah's conversations with negotiators during the siege had been recorded and would be used in the forthcoming inquiry.

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