Police threat to storm gun suspect

Police threat to storm gun suspect

French police have said they will storm the flat where the suspected Jewish school massacre gunman is holed up if he does not surrender.

Mohammad Merah, who claims links to al Qaida, is wanted for the murders of a teacher, three children and three soldiers in the Toulouse region.

The 24-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, has spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Cedric Delage, regional secretary for a police union, said Merah has promised to turn himself into police. If he does not, police will force their way in.

Merah opened fire on officers when they arrived to arrest him at his block of flats early today.

A siege began and he told police he wanted to take revenge for Palestinian children killed in the Middle East, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said, adding the man also said he was angry about French military intervention abroad.

Hundreds of officers surrounded the building as the French interior ministry admitted Merah had been under surveillance for years for having “fundamentalist” views.

After hours of trying to persuade him to surrender, police evacuated the five-storey 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. It began after France’s worst-ever school shooting on 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.

Police have been following several leads but said Merah is their key suspect. Merah threw a Colt .45 handgun used in each of the three attacks out of a window in exchange for a device to talk to authorities, but has more weapons like an AK-47 assault rifle. Yet more weapons have been found in his car.

There was some confusion over Merah’s background, because a man 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 3am on the residential neighbourhood in Toulouse where Merah was living. At one point, volleys of gunfire were exchanged. An elite squad was handling the negotiations.

Merah promised several times to surrender in the afternoon, then stopped talking to negotiators.

Merah’s mother, his brother and a companion of the brother were all held for questioning.

The building where the raid is taking place dates from the 1960s. Merah’s apartment is on the ground floor.

A key to tracking Merah was the powerful Yamaha scooter that he has used in attacks – a dark grey one that had been stolen March 6. The frame was painted white, the colour witnesses saw in the school attack.

One of Merah’s brothers went to a motorcycle sales outfit to ask how to modify the GPS tracker, raising suspicions. The dealer then contacted police, Delage said.

The shooter has proved to be a meticulous operator. At the site of the second paratrooper killing, police found the clip for the gun used in all three attacks - but no fingerprints or DNA on it.

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