French Police Negotiate Surrender of School Shooting Suspect

Posted March 21st, 2012 at 12:15 pm (UTC-5)
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French police are negotiating the surrender of a man suspected in the shooting deaths of seven people, including three Jewish children at a school in Toulouse.

Officials say the suspect is 24-year-old Mohammed Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, who claims to have links to al-Qaida.

A French prosecutor says Merah spent time in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and was deported back to France by the U.S. military. The prosecutor says Merah was planning imminent attacks on other servicemen and police in the Toulouse region.

French officials say Merah told authorities he will surrender Wednesday evening.

Police have detained his brother and girlfriend. They say they found explosives in a vehicle belonging to the brother.

The standoff began early Wednesday morning after a police attempt to storm the Toulouse house where the suspect is holed up erupted in gunfire, leaving two officers wounded. Interior Minister Claude Gueant says police are determined to take him alive.

Gueant says the suspect was angry about French military intervention abroad, and said he wanted to avenge Palestinian children killed in the Middle East. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad denounced the killings, saying it is time for criminals to stop using the Palestinians to justify their cause.

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

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Socialist Francois Hollande and right-winger Marine Le Pen have temporarily suspended their presidential election campaigns out of respect for the victims.

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 wanted to “bring France to its knees” but that he will fail in his attempt to divide the country.

The bodies of the rabbi and three children were flown to Israel for burial. Thousands of sobbing mourners, including French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, attended their funerals at the Givat Shaul cemetery outside Jerusalem on Wednesday.