Thursday, March 22, 2012

French gunman Mohammed Merah dead after police raid

Mohammed Merah, the 23-year-old French gunman who confessed to killing seven people in the city of Toulouse in southwest France, is dead after being shot in the head by a police sniper during a final dramatic shoot-out with French police. It was the culmination of a 31-hour standoff with hundreds of French anti-terror police who had surrounded the building where Merah had barricaded himself.

French Interior Minister Claude Gueant told reporters Thursday that Merah had ceased communicating with negotiators around midnight, after discussing a possible surrender, giving rise to speculation he might have committed suicide. "But when heavily armed paramilitary police entered the apartment through the door and several windows about 10:30 a.m., Gueant said, Merah burst out of the bathroom, blasting away with several weapons," the Washington Post's Edward Cody reported. Gueant said Mareh had fired at police before jumping out of the window where "he was found dead on the ground below."

The Interior Minister wouldn't answer whether Merah had died in the fall or was shot by police, though France 24 commentators noted that the jump from the 1st floor window was unlikely to have killed him. French prosecutors later clarified in a news conference Thursday that Merah was shot in the head by a police sniper after he tried to flee.

Earlier, French prosecutor Francois Molins told journalists that Merah had claimed responsibility for killing four people--including three young children--at a Jewish school in Toulouse and three French paratroopers. Merah cited the death of Palestinian children in Gaza and opposition to France's role in the NATO peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan as the reason for targeting French troops and Jewish school children.

Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent, also reportedly claimed sympathies for al-Qaida and to have trained in jihadi camps on at least two previous trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan, most recently in 2011.

Update: This post was updated at 10:40 AM EST with information from French prosecutors that Mohammed Mareh died from a shot to the head by a police sniper.

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