In an unfolding drama that has riveted France and the world, about 300 police, some in body armor, cordoned off a four-storey building in a suburb of Toulouse where the 24-year-old Muslim shooter, identified as Mohamed Merah, is holed up.
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant denied media reports that Merah had been arrested.
The serial shooter who killed seven people in France was preparing to strike again on Wednesday, President Nicolas Sarkozy told officials from a Jewish organization, DPA reported.
Sarkozy said that the gunman “was planning to kill this morning,” Nicole Yardeni of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions told the BFM broadcaster in a telephone interview after meeting with the president.
Gueant said the gunman was a French citizen of Algerian origin who had been to Pakistan and Afghanistan and had told police negotiators he had carried out his attacks to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and because of the French army’s involvement in Afghanistan.
A French prosecutor, Francois Molins, told a press conference the suspect in the shooting attacks had been to Afghanistan twice and trained in Pakistan’s Waziristan province. He said Merah’s brother had been implicated in a network that sent militant fighters to Iraq, the Guardian reported.
Earlier Wednesday, Merah cut off contact with police after saying he would turn himself in. The area where the suspect is barricading himself has been evacuated. French police began a raid on a house in Toulouse at 3 A.M. local time on Wednesday to arrest suspects in the shooting at the Ozar Hatorah school. Two French police were wounded in a shoot-out during the raid.
The director of prisons in Kandahar told Reuters that Merah had been arrested for bomb making in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar in 2007 but broke out of jail months later after a daring Taliban prison break.
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This story "Toulouse Suspect Holds Police at Bay" was written by Haaretz.