| 9.9°C Dublin

Toulouse siege: Jihadist gunman dies following gun battle and leap from apartment

Close

French special unit policemen leave the scene after the assault during whichMohamed Merah was killed.

French special unit policemen leave the scene after the assault during whichMohamed Merah was killed.

Masked officers exit the building following the  operation that killed Mohammed Merah

Masked officers exit the building following the operation that killed Mohammed Merah

French President Nicolas Sarkozy shakes hand with Toulouse prosecutor Michel Valetas  as he arrives to monitor police operations.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy shakes hand with Toulouse prosecutor Michel Valetas as he arrives to monitor police operations.

Mohammed Merah

Mohammed Merah

French policemen and firefighters stand as members of the RAID special police forces unit are still laying siege to the apartment block where Mohamed Merah, the man suspected of a series of deadly shootings, was holed up, on March 22, 2012 in Toulouse, southwestern France. Suspected jihadi serial killer Mohamed Merah is a 23-year-old French petty criminal of Algerian origin who spent time in Pakistan and Afghanistan and claims to be an Al-Qaeda militant. AFP PHOTO LIONEL BONAVENTURE (Photo credit should read LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)

French policemen and firefighters stand as members of the RAID special police forces unit are still laying siege to the apartment block where Mohamed Merah, the man suspected of a series of deadly shootings, was holed up, on March 22, 2012 in Toulouse, southwestern France. Suspected jihadi serial killer Mohamed Merah is a 23-year-old French petty criminal of Algerian origin who spent time in Pakistan and Afghanistan and claims to be an Al-Qaeda militant. AFP PHOTO LIONEL BONAVENTURE (Photo credit should read LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)

LIONEL BONAVENTURE

French police officers wait next to the building in Toulouse, France, Wednesday March 21, 2012 where a suspect in the shooting at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school has been spotted. A father and his two sons were among four people who died Monday when a gunman opened fire in front of a Jewish school in the city in southwest France. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)

French police officers wait next to the building in Toulouse, France, Wednesday March 21, 2012 where a suspect in the shooting at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school has been spotted. A father and his two sons were among four people who died Monday when a gunman opened fire in front of a Jewish school in the city in southwest France. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)

Bob Edme

French police and emergency services gather on a street during a raid on a five-storey building to arrest a suspect in the killings of three children and a rabbi on Monday at a Jewish school, in Toulouse March 21, 2012. About 300 police, some in bullet-proof body armour, cordoned off an area surrounding an apartment in a Toulouse neighbourhood in southwestern France, where the 24-year-old Muslim man was holed up. Shots were heard in the early hours of the morning, and police said three officers had been slightly wounded.     REUTERS/Jean-Philippe Arles  (FRANCE - Tags: CRIME LAW)

French police and emergency services gather on a street during a raid on a five-storey building to arrest a suspect in the killings of three children and a rabbi on Monday at a Jewish school, in Toulouse March 21, 2012. About 300 police, some in bullet-proof body armour, cordoned off an area surrounding an apartment in a Toulouse neighbourhood in southwestern France, where the 24-year-old Muslim man was holed up. Shots were heard in the early hours of the morning, and police said three officers had been slightly wounded. REUTERS/Jean-Philippe Arles (FRANCE - Tags: CRIME LAW)

JEAN-PHILIPPE ARLES

/

French special unit policemen leave the scene after the assault during whichMohamed Merah was killed.

ISLAMIST gunman Mohamed Merah was killed in five-minute fire-fight with police during which 300 bullets were fired and he jumped from the window of his apartment.



French Interior Minister Claude Gueant gave a description of the gun battle which ended in Mohammed Merah's death around 10.30 am (French time). He said the police decided to storm the building after the gunman had threatened to kill police and refused to surrender late last night.

Describing the raid itself, he said: "We sent in special cameras to be able to see where he was but we could not locate him. It was when we were able to locate him in the bathroom that he came out shooting madly at everybody."



Merah jumped out of the window and continued to shoot. He was found dead on the ground.



Reports emerged earlier on TV channels of a stretcher being brought in near the apartment and firemen have spotted donning oxygen masks and helmets.



Claude Gueant questioned earlier this morning whether Merah was still alive. He said: "We have one priority: to take him alive so that he can surrender to face justice. We hope he is still alive. Despite redoubled efforts throughout the night, there has been no contact with him."

He noted that it was "quite strange that he did not react" when police exploded a series of charges overnight to get his attention. Gueant added: "We heard two shots, we don't know what they were."

Early this morning it was reported that French police believe Merah wanted to die "with weapons in hand".

Merah has been holed up since 3am yesterday when he fired a volley from his Kalashnikov at officers from France's elite RAID intervention unit as they attempted to storm the flat.

Claude Guéant, said Merah told police he had "received instructions from al-Qaeda during a trip to Pakistan".



"They proposed he commit a suicide bomb attack. He refused, but accepted a general mission to commit a terrorist attack in France," he said.



It emerged that Merah was a serial petty criminal, rejected twice from the French army, who had travelled to Afghanistan to be trained as a jihadist.



He had been monitored by French intelligence after being rendered back to France from the war zone. But he went on to carry out three separate attacks in the past two weeks, killing three French paratroopers and then a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school on Monday.



Francois Molins, France's anti-terrorist prosecutor, said Merah had "boasted that he had brought France to its knees. He expressed no regret apart from not having had enough time to kill more victims."



The siege at 17, Rue de Sergent Vigne in a quiet district began before dawn yesterday. Neighbours were woken to the sound of gun shots as the RAID officers surrounded the five-storey council block.



Merah, the French-born son of an Algerian immigrant family, shouted "I can see you!" and opened fire on officers as they approached the building, wounding three. Police appealed to Merah's mother to intervene, but she said she had no hold over him.



Neighbours in the block of flats had not had time to flee. Watching the event unfolding on their televisions, many phoned relatives outside the police cordon to share their fears. "My son is inside," said a frantic father as he arrived at the scene. "I just spoke to him on the phone, he is terrified. He woke up to sounds of gunfire and some sort of grenade. My son is scared the suspect is going to blow the place up"



After hours of negotiations, the residents were finally evacuated mid-morning, some taken down ladders on the backs of firemen. Police explored vehicles in the area, investigating some that they feared might be booby-trapped with explosives. Several weapons were discovered in one belonging to Merah.



After throwing the Colt 45 used in each of the three attacks out a window in exchange for a device to talk to authorities, Merah also told negotiators that he had planned to kill a soldier outside his home yesterday morning and had identified two local policemen as his subsequent victims. He showed no remorse in confirming that on Monday, he had calmly parked his powerful scooter outside the Ozer Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse and gunned down the rabbi, his two sons and an eight-year-old girl at point-blank range. It was the worst such attack on a school in French history.



He confirmed that he had filmed the atrocities and intended to post the images on the internet "soon". Detectives later found a bag with the camera that he had given to a friend.



Mehar's older brother, Abdelkader, 27, was arrested on suspicion of belonging to the Knights of Pride, an extremist group against the burka ban in France.



Police had launched a massive manhunt for the killer. They finally tracked Merah thanks to a message he had sent from his mother's computer to one of his victims and information from a scooter dealer suspicious of a request asking how to remove a GPS anti-theft tracking device from his Yamaha Tmax.



Thought to be armed with a Kalashnikov, a Mini-Uzi 9mm machine pistol and other handgun, Mehar was candid about his al-Qaeda training on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.



Mr Molins added: "He told police he was acting in revenge at Israel for killing Palestinian children and at France for having troops in Afghanistan – but also at the French law banning anyone from hiding their face. He claims to have always acted alone. He said he does not have a suicidal spirit, he did not have a martyr's soul, he preferred to kill and remain alive."



A police source at the scene said they were "keen to get him alive, so we are playing the long game rather than storming the flat."



Gas and electricity supplies to the building were cut last night.



Mr Guéant said Merah had been tracked by the DCRI, the French domestic intelligence service "for several years" and was part of a small group of around 15 followers of Islamic fundamentalist Salafist ideology.



"His radicalisation seems to have been firmed up by two journeys he made to Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said.



Mr Guéant said that the regional French intelligence service had summoned Merah in November "so that he could explain more precisely what he was doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan.



"He said, with photos to prove it, that it was a tourist trip."



Earlier, Mr Guéant had said that "nothing had led intelligence to suggest he was preparing criminal acts".



But Merah's apprehension at an Afghan police checkpoint, followed by his handover by the US army, was seized upon by politicians who asked whether he could have been arrested earlier.



Louis Aliot, the deputy leader far-Right National Front, said the incident "casts doubt" on the French government's ability to fight Islamist extremist networks.



President Nicolas Sarkozy, remained above the fray, declaring: "Terrorism will not be able to fracture our national community." At a memorial ceremony for the murdered soldiers at their barracks in Montauban yesterday, he said: "A French soldier knows death and knows how to look it in the face, but...it was not death on the field of battle but a terrorist execution."

Telegraph.co.uk