Explosions Heard Near Suspected Killer’s Home in France

Posted March 21st, 2012 at 6:55 pm (UTC-5)
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French news media say three loud explosions were heard Wednesday near a home of a man suspected in the shooting deaths of seven people, including three children and a teacher at a Jewish school.

French police have tried several times to storm the suspect's home in the southern city of Toulouse.

They say three officers were wounded in the attempts.

The suspect is 24-year-old Mohammed Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, who claims to have links to al-Qaida. French officials say Merah told authorities he would surrender Wednesday evening.

News reports say his mother was brought outside the building where he is holed up to try to get him to surrender.

Police say they received a tip from a Yamaha dealer in Toulouse who said he remembered that a young man had asked to have an antitheft device removed from a motorbike. Authorities say it was the same kind used in the recent murders of three French soldiers near a military base and Monday's fatal shootings of the four people at the Jewish school in Toulouse.

The standoff began early Wednesday morning after the police attempt to storm the home where the suspect is holed up led to gunfire, leaving two officers wounded.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant says police are determined to take the suspect alive.

Merah told the police he had planned more killings and that he would “bring France to its knees.” He said he wanted to avenge Palestinian children killed in the Middle East and denounce French involvement in Afghanistan.

U.S. President Barack Obama called French President Nicolas Sarkozy while aboard Air Force One en route to Nevada. A White House statement says President Obama expressed his solidarity with President Sarkozy and the government and people of France. The statement said President Obama underscored that the American people stand shoulder to shoulder with “our French allies and friends in this trying time.”

The gunman is accused of murdering a rabbi and three children — ages four, five and seven — at the Jewish school in Toulouse Monday before riding off on the motorcycle.

French police say the alleged shooter used the same gun to kill three French soldiers of African and French Caribbean origin last week in Toulouse and a nearby town.

During a funeral for two of the paratroopers in Montauban, north of Toulouse, President Sarkozy said the slain soldiers were victims of “terrorist executions.” He added that the suspected gunman will fail in his attempt to divide the country.

Far right political leader Marine Le Pen lashed out against “Islamic fundamentalism” in an interview on Israeli radio Wednesday.

The bodies of the rabbi and three children were buried Wednesday in Israel.