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School shootout suspect arrested

The French police on Wednesday arrested the man who killed three children and an adult at a Jewish school on Monday.

world Updated: Mar 21, 2012 23:16 IST

The French police on Wednesday arrested the man who killed three children and an adult at a Jewish school on Monday.

The arrest followed a day-long siege to an apartment block where the self-declared Al-Qaeda militant, who claimed responsibility for a series of deadly attacks on troops and Jewish children, was holed up.

One police source who is not directly linked to the investigation confirmed the arrest to Reuters, but several other sources said they were not aware of it. TV channels cited police sources for the information, without providing further details. It was not immediately possible to confirm this. Officials said suspect Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent who has visited Afghanistan and Pakistan, bragged of being an Al-Qaeda member and said he had killed to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children.

Gunfire erupted as members of the RAID police special forces team tried to storm an apartment in a residential district of Toulouse in a pre-dawn raid, and two officers were wounded, interior minister Claude Gueant said.

After the clash, the two sides settled down into an armed siege, with the police initially talking to the suspect through the door. Nine hours after the standoff began, officials evacuated neighbours from the five-storey block. Neighbours leaving the area said the suspect was on the first storey. Gueant said the suspect was thought to be armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Mini-Uzi 9mm machine pistol and other handguns, but had thrown a .45 pistol used in the seven murders in the previous nine days from a window.

He said the suspect had for several years been tracked by France’s DCRI intelligence agency and its agents in Toulouse, but that there was never anything to suggest he was preparing a criminal act.

Trained in Pak, Afghanistan Merah spoke to officers through the door of his apartment, and declared himself to be a "mujaheedeen" or Islamic warrior, fighting to avenge Palestinian children killed in the conflict with Israel, the minister said.

“This person has made trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the past... and says he belongs to Al-Qaeda and says he wanted to avenge Palestinian children and to attack the French army,” Gueant told reporters at the scene.

“He has links with people involved in Jihadism and Salafism,” he added, referring to two strains of thought that have influenced Al-Qaeda. The suspect had previously been arrested on a matter of common law in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, a police source said. In response to what Merah was believed to have said, Palestine PM Salam Fayyad said extremists must stop using the Palestinian cause to justify their acts of violence.

“It is time for these criminals to stop marketing their terrorist acts in the name of Palestine and to stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children,” he said.

terror becomes election issue As President Nicolas Sarkozy called for national unity, some of the candidates seeking to replace him in next month’s vote began to manoeuvre to take advantage of the mood of crisis.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen — running in third place in the polls — said: “The danger of fundamentalism has been underestimated in our country.” A spokesman for challenger Jean-Luc Melenchon denounced Le Pen’s National Front as “vultures” feeding at the scene of the crimes. Candidate Francois Bayrou also accused her of trying to “surf” to power.

First Published: Mar 21, 2012 22:55 IST