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Suspected serial killer continues armed standoff into second day as police work to negotiate his surrender.
Last Modified: 22 Mar 2012 01:43
Homes and businesses in Toulouse, France, have been locked down after at least three explosions rocked the neighbourhood where a man suspected of killing seven people is engaged in a standoff with police.
The blasts at the building were intended to intimidate the gunman, who has reportedly claimed responsibility for the killings, the interior French interior ministry said on Thursday. There has not yet been an assault to get him out of his apartment, ministry officials said.
"They were moves to intimidate the gunman who seems to have changed his mind and does not want to surrender," Pierre-Henry Brandet, an interior ministry spokesman, said. "There is no assault."
In a pre-dawn raid, about 300 police, some in body armour, cordoned off a five-storey building in a suburb of Toulouse where 24-year-old Mohammed Merah, the suspected serial killer, is holed up.
Merah is thought to be armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Mini-Uzi submachine pistol and a collection of handguns.
Claude Gueant, the French interior minister, earlier said that Merah had told police he would give himself up in the afternoon.
"He said ... he will turn himself in this afternoon," Gueant told BFM television, adding that the police were determined to take him alive so that he could stand trial.
A police source identified the suspect as Mohammed Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, the AFP news agency reported.
Francois Molins, a French prosecutor, said on Wednesday that the gunman had planned to kill another soldier imminently, prompting a major police raid on his apartment, the Associated Press news agency reported.
"He has no regrets, except not having more time to kill more people. And he boasts that he has brought France to its knees," Molins, part of the anti-terrorist unit leading the investigation, told a news conference.
The suspect later exchanged one of his weapons for a cellphone. Police officres, however, said he still had several weapons.
One of the suspect's brothers and his mother have reportedly been arrested, while another turned has himself in.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, who is running for re-election in five weeks time, has paid homage to the soldiers killed by the gunman. He said that the three French soldiers gunned down last week were victims of a "terrorist execution".
Speaking at a memorial service for the soldiers in Montauban, the French president said that "terrorism will not break [the] country, and that the country must not give in to revenge".
Sarkozy, who also visited the scene of the siege, said the killer had wanted to "bring France to its knees", but had failed, and said the attacker would likewise fail in his attempt to divide the country.
'Radicalised by al-Qaeda'
Speaking to journalists, Gueant said the suspect was a French citizen and and "he belongs to al-Qaeda".
He said the suspect wanted to "take revenge for Palestinian children" killed in the Middle East, and was angry at the French military for its operations abroad.
Michael Stephens, a researcher with the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar, however, told Al Jazeera the interior minister needed to step back until there was more evidence.
"There is very little evidence of organisational structure behind the attack. It is more likely he was acting alone and radicalised by al-Qaeda ideas," he said.
Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from Toulouse, said the operation was ongoing.
The raid came as three children and a rabbi gunned down outside the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse were buried in Israel.
The bodies had earlier arrived in Israel after being flown by Israel's El Al airline.
Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, along with 50 relatives and friends of the victims, accompanied the bodies as they were flown home.
Jonathan Sandler, a 30-year-old Frenchman, his two sons, five-year-old Arieh and four-year-old Gabriel - as well as seven-year-old Myriam Monsonego - were buried at the Givat Shaul cemetery in Jerusalem.
President Sarkozy paid silent homage to the victims on Tuesday at a school in Paris close to the city's Holocaust memorial, and afterwards admitted that authorities had, at that time, no clue as to the identity of the killer.
"Anti-Semitism is obvious. The Jewish school attack was an anti-Semitic crime," Sarkozy told reporters at the Paris school after meeting children.
Attack on soldiers
French investigators fear the same gunman also killed three soldiers in two recent separate attacks.
The soldiers were French citizens of North African origin, while another, who was critically wounded in the attack, was black and from the French West Indies.
French police on Monday launched a huge manhunt after the shooting, and the region was put on its highest level of security alert.
Police said that the same weapon and the same stolen scooter appeared to have been used in all three attacks.
All three attacks were carried out by the rider using a .45-calibre weapon, who witnesses described as "calmly" shooting his victims.
The gunman may also have recorded the attack with an extreme sports video camera strapped to his chest, the French interior minister said.
"A witness saw a small video camera around the killer's neck," Gueant told Europe 1 radio on Tuesday.
"It's a video camera worn in a harness on the chest and indeed he was seen, a witness said so, with this device," Gueant said. "I don't know if he filmed everything."
All seven people slain in three attacks were shot in the head at point blank range, the prosecutor leading the investigation said on Tuesday.
Al Jazeera and agencies