Police in France have surrounded an apartment block in a quiet residential neighborhood in the southern city of Toulouse and are currently negotiating with suspected gunman 23-year-old Mohammed Merah, who has claimed responsibility for the shooting deaths of three paratroopers and four people, three of them children, outside the Jewish Ozar Hatorah school on Monday.
Merah is said to be of Algerian descent and, according to French prosecutor Francois Molins, has been to Afghanistan twice and had trained in Pakistan’s Waziristan, a militant stronghold. However, the media and information office of the governor of Kandahar, said via Twitter that “Security Forces in Kandahar have never detained a French citizen named Mohammad Merah.” French interior minister Claude Guéant says that Merah has told police that he belongs to Al Qaida and killed the victims “to take revenge for the deaths of Palestinian children” and because he was angry at French “crimes” in Afhganistan.
The French government says that Merah had been under surveillance by security forces but had not done anything suggesting that he was “preparing criminal activity.” The New York Times reports that Merah became a suspect a few days ago after police traced an IP address that had been using “in connection with the killing of the first paratrooper 10 days ago” to the suspect’s mother. She was questioned by police on Wednesday afternoon. Police had already detained the suspect’s brother, who was “known locally for his radical religious ideology,” and a friend outside Toulouse on Monday.
Authorities have seized a Yamaha TMax scooter that Merah directed them to and that was used in the shootings. He has also claimed that he has stored automatic firearms and weapons in a Renault Megane and a Clio.
The funerals of the four who were killed at the school on Monday were held in Israel today. The funerals for the three soldiers were also held today and attended by French President Nicholas Sarkozy who said that the soldiers, who were all of Caribbean or African descent, were killed “because they were French soldiers, they worked for the French army.” He also said that “We must give in neither to discrimination nor revenge.”
Nicole Yardeni, a local representative of the Jewish umbrella group the Crif, has said that Sarkozy had told her and Muslim leaders that Merah was preparing himself “to kill again this morning when police intervened.”
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