More Explosions Heard Outside Shooting Suspect’s Home in France

Posted March 21st, 2012 at 11:50 pm (UTC-5)
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A standoff is continuing in Toulouse, France, where police are trying to force the suspect in the shooting deaths of seven people to surrender.

Media reports say several loud explosions have been heard near the building where the suspect, 24-year-old Mohammed Merah, has been holed up. The Frenchman of Algerian origin claims to have links to al-Qaida.

Officials say he had initially told authorities he would surrender Wednesday evening.

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.

Two police officers have been wounded in earlier attempts to storm the Toulouse house where the suspect is holed up.

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.

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.

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.”

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.