Conflicting Reports of Toulouse Shooting Suspect's Arrest

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Update: (10:06 a.m.)  Though Reuters and some French TV outlets were reporting that Mohammed Merah has been arrested, there are conflicting reports out there.  A police source told Le Figaro that negotiations are still under way, while the French Interior Minister has also denied the arrest

Update (9:57 a.m.) The Guardian is reporting that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has arrived on the scene--they note that many expect Sarkozy to announce the arrest himself. They add: "The election is just weeks away."

Update (9:25 a.m.): Reuters is reporting that Mohammed Merah has turned himself in. Merah is the prime suspect in the shootings last week which claimed the lives of three French soldiers and shooting four people (three children) at a Jewish school on Monday. According to The Guardian, the standoff is more than 12 hours old.

UPDATE (7:00 a.m.): Reuters is now reporting that a prison director in Kandahar, Afghanistan, says Merah was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for planting bombs in Kandahar, but escaped during a mass jailbreak orchestrated by the Taliban. Kandahar's government office says it's not the same guy.

UPDATE (6:00 a.m.): French police say that negotiations have stopped, but people living in the neighborhood have been evacuated and the gas has been turned off to the suspects building, under fears he might to try to blow it up. The suspect's car has also been searched and more weapons found there.

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Interior Minister Gueant has admitted that Merah had been followed for "several years" by domestic intelligence services, which is already raising questions about how he was able to carry out three different attacks before being arrested.

 

Police raided the house of the man they believe is responsible for the shooting deaths of seven people in southern France, but the 24-year-old suspect is holed up inside and refusing to surrender. Two officers were wounded after an early morning attempt to arrest the man at his apartment in a crowded urban neighborhood in Toulouse. Reports say that they attempted to talk to him through the front door when he opened fire, hitting two officers. The suspect later threw a handgun out the window, but is believed to have many more weapons inside, including assault rifles.

French police have identified the suspect as Mohammed Merah, a French citizen of Algerian decent who has been known and watched by France's intelligence services in the past. According to authorities, he claims to belong to Al Qaeda and his attacks were meant "to avenge Palestinaian children."  French Interior Minister Claude Gueant, who is at the scene and has been providing updates for the media, says Merah claims to be "mujahideen" and has made visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Police say the suspect was identified because of an email message sent to his first victim. According to the BBC report, Merah sent the message from his brother's account to arrange a meeting with the solider about buying a scooter and that the solider was killed at that meeting. Merah's brother has also been arrested.

Witnesses says police arrived in the crowded urban neighborhood around 3:00 a.m. and then gunfire rang out about an hour later. The suspect has reportedly claimed he will surrender later today, but has not done so yet. Authorities are trying to negotiate, even calling in the suspect's mother to help, saying they want to take him alive so that he can stand trial.

The man is accused of killing three French soldiers last week and also shooting four people (including three children) at a Jewish school on Monday. In all three attacks, the suspect fired at his victims from a motorcycle before escaping, and may have videotaped the incidents as they happened. Police say that forensics have linked all three shooting to the same gun.

Three of the victims of the school shooting — a rabbi and two of his children — have already arrived in Jerusalem where they will be buried today.

 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.