Mohammed Merah, the gunman suspected in the shooting deaths of three French soldiers and four people outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, is dead. After a 32-hour standoff, police entered his apartment at 9:30 GMT after throwing grenades. Merah appeared from a bathroom firing several weapons and jumped out of a window to his death while still firing.
UPDATE, 4:30pm EST: The BBC reports that a police sniper shot and killed Merah as he tried to jump out the bathroom window of his apartment. He was wearing a bulletproof vest under his clothes and held a gun hidden by a pair of jeans. Ingredients to make Molotov cocktails were found on the balcony as well as video footage of the three attacks that he had carried out.
Interior Minister Clause Guéant said that, according to a RAID [special police] officer, “he had never seen such a violent assault.” During the siege, a number of explosions had been set off in the hopes of intimidating Merah. He had said that he had killed his seven victims to “avenge Palestinian children,” described himself as a member of Al Qaida and claimed he was armed with a Kalashnikov high-velocity rifle, a mini-Uzi 9mm machine pistol, several handguns and possibly grenades.
French Muslim leaders interviewed by the New York Times have urged French citizens “not to stigmatize Muslims.” A 25-year-old man in Paris, Farouk, said that the North African Muslim community is “disgusted with what has happened — it’s we who suffer, it’s we who will be criticized” and described Islamophobia as the “new face” of racism. A mathematics professor in LIlle, Meghani, said that “I wish the European population would understand that Muslims themselves are also victims of terrorism and of radical Islam.”
President Nicholas Sarkozy, who attended the funeral of the three soldiers in the city of Montaubanon Wednesday, has placed France on its highest “scarlet” level of security.
The New York Times suggests that Merah seems “another example of the kind of homegrown terrorist, with a European nationality and passport, considered a major security threat” at a time when Al Qaida does not seem to be such a “coherent organization.” Merah claimed that he had spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He had been previously jailed for robbery from December 2007 to September 2009, according to his lawyer, Christian Etelin. Police said they had found explosives in a car beloning to Merah’s brother, Abdelkader, who has been arrested as well as their mother and a friend of Abdelkader.
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Photo by Jayel Aheram