Earlier: Police are laying siege to an apartment in Toulouse where the gunman behind shootings of French paratroopers and Jewish schoolchildren is thought to be hiding, the BBC reports.The shooter is a 24-year-old Frenchman of Algerian origin. Mohammed Merah has claimed that he is linked with al-Qaeda and acted to “avenge Palestinian children”.
Reuters reports that Merah escaped from an Afghanistan prison in 2008, where he was serving time for planting bombs to aid the Taliban.
The suspect is said to be heavily armed and has been in negotiations with police, though the latest reports from Le Monde’s live blog suggest negotiations have ceased.
The Telegraph reports that Merah threw out the gun thought to have been used in last week’s attacks, but claims to have a “Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Mini-Uzi 9mm machine pistol and other handguns” in the apartment. He shot at police when they arrived, wounding two officers, the BBC reports.
Merah reportedly phoned the editor of French news source France 24 before police raided his home. He gave details of the killings and his motives, telling Ebba Kalondo it was just the beginning and a video of the attack would soon be on the internet.
We’ll be adding updates to this post below:
UPDATE 8:32am ET: Reports in Europe 1 suggest that Merah tried to join the French foreign legion and the French Army between two trips to Afghanistan, but he was not selected due to his “criminal record and his psychological instability”.
Additionally, we should point out that a bomb exploded outside the Indonesian Embassy in France this morning. No one was hurt and at present there has been no reason to suspect a link with the incident in Toulouse.
UPDATE 9:20am ET: Reuters is citing French TV channel BFM reports that the suspect has been arrested after a raid.
UPDATE 9:39am ET: We haven’t seen confirmation of the BFM TV report yet, but France 24 reports that Nicolas Sarkozy is on the scene.
Interior Minister Claude Gueant has denied the arrest. Seems most conclusive so far to say that Merah has NOT been arrested, though perhaps some kind of progress was made that implied he would be soon.
UPDATE 11:45am ET: Francois Molins, the prosecutor in charge of the case has said that Merah has admitted he was planning on shooting a soldier today, and then later shooting two policemen (via the Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders).
Updates from Liberation reveal that police have discovered the video camera used to film the shootings and the black scooter used to transport the gunman have been found by police.
UPDATE 2:39pm ET: Liberation reveals that the gunman has told the police that he is not suicidal would prefer “to kill and stay alive.” The standoff has been going on for almost 16 hours now, despite seeming regular contact between the police and Merah.
Sky News’ Mark Stone’s video gives an idea of the scene and mood in the Toulouse neighbourhood where Merah is holed up.
UPDATE 3:06pm ET: US President Barack Obama has offered “his personal condolences and those of the American people” to Sarkozy and the families of the gunman’s victims, Le Monde reports.
Europe 1 also quotes French defence Minister Gerard Longuet as denying that an intelligence failure was responsible for the current situation.
UPDATE 3:20pm ET: Merah’s former lawyer, Christian Etelin, has told reporters “if he [Merah] asks, I will defend him.” Le Monde’s Soren Seelow is tweeting his speech. Meanwhile, here’s a photo of the ‘press conference’.
UPDATE 3:25pm ET: Liberation is quoting Longuet as saying the authorities want to capture Merah alive to try him for his crimes.
UPDATE 3:56pm ET: A video, reportedly of shooter Mohammed Merah, has been broadcast by TV station France 2. The video shows Merah performing three-point turns and driving a BMW around what seems to be an empty parking lot, while being filmed, presumably by a friend.
Here’s the video, courtesy Europe 1 journalist Ivan Valerio:
UPDATE 4:13pm ET: All the streetlights on the street where the shooter is hiding have been turned off, with spotlights trained on the building he’s in, Le Monde’s Soren Seelow has tweeted, in what seems the first sign of some progress or change in the police’s plans.
Europe 1 is also reporting an increase in police activity.
UPDATE 4:54pm ET: The reason for the sudden darkness on the street is apparently that the gunman wants to surrender at night “to be more discreet”, The Journal quotes Interior Minister Gueant as saying. But he had already claimed he was willing to surrender hours ago, but didn’t follow through.
UPDATE 5:09pm ET: Things might finally be about to happen. Europe 1 was told by a source that it would “not be much longer” after the last attempt at mediation had failed.
The Telegraph is also reporting Gueant as saying Merah targeted the Jewish school because of his inability to track down any more military targets or soldiers.
UPDATE 5:37pm ET: Ebba Kalondo talks about her phone call with the alleged shooter on France 24:
UPDATE 5:48pm ET: Armed French anti-terror officers (RAID) are moving into position near Mehar’s hideout, The Telegraph’s Fiona Govan is reporting. But according to France Info, the assault has not begun.
UPDATE 8:32am ET: After a more than 30-hour siege, The New York Times is reporting that Merah is finally dead after a fight with the police, who raided the building. He apparently jumped from a window while still firing his weapon at police officers.
UPDATE 8:37am ET: Minister Gueant described the gun fight to reporters:
We sent in special cameras to be able to see where he was but we could not locate him. It was when we were able to locate him in the bathroom that he came out shooting madly at everybody.
The police had never seen anything like this kind of violence and the RAID officers had to protect themselves.
In the end, Mohammed Merah jumped out of the window with a gun in his hand, still shooting. He was found dead on the ground.
UPDATE 10:51am ET: Sarkozy has announced an investigation into the possibility that Merah may have had accomplices, according to The Belfast Telegraph.
Russia Today has uploaded some video footage where you can hear the gun battle and explosions that occured before Merah jumped out of the window and was shot by officers:
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