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'Wants to die with weapons in hand': Toulouse gunman may already be dead

Published time: March 22, 2012 07:10
Edited time: March 22, 2012 18:19

Members of GIPN van (French National Police Intervention Group), and firefighters stand near the Belle Paule residence, 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 (AFP Photo / Philippe Desmazes)

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Toulouse gunman Mohammed Merah may already be dead as the siege enters its second day. The French interior minister says the gunman besieged in Toulouse wants to die with “weapons in hand” and it is not certain if suspect is still alive.

The gunman, deemed France's public enemy No.1, has not been heard from all night.

Tension mounts in Toulouse where the suspected killer is holed up. He is armed with a cache of weapons.

We have one priority: to take him alive so that he can surrender to face justice. We hope he is still alive.Despite renewed efforts all through the night to reestablish contact by voice and radio, there has been no contact, no sign of him,” Claude Gueant told journalists.

Blasts have shaken the air and the orange flashes lit up the sky throughout Thursday night near the five-story building, in which French police have trapped a suspected serial killer. Some 300 heavily-armed police, some in body armor, are at the scene, on a quiet, leafy Toulouse street.

An elite French anti-terrorist unit is trying to force the suspect, Mohamed Merah, to surrender.

Police have blown a hole in the wall of the apartment, but Merah is holed up in another room. Merah is armed with an Uzi machine gun, Kalashnikov (AK) assault rifle and other weapons.

Police are using both talks and pressure. Negotiations between the RAID commando unit (Special Operations tactical unit of the National Police) and the gunman are now becoming one of the longest carried out by the team since May, 1993, when a disturbed man named Eric Schmitt, carrying large quantities of explosives, took 21 children hostage in a school in Neuilly.

Masked French special unit policemen are seen on the scene 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 22, 2012 (Reuters / Jean-Paul Pelissier)
Masked French special unit policemen are seen on the scene 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 22, 2012 (Reuters / Jean-Paul Pelissier)

­'We want him alive!'

Earlier the French government announced the talks could be long and difficult as the man has a “strong temperament.” Later on, the gunman said he would rather live and explain his actions "with his head held high" than die a "martyr".

"What we want is to capture him alive, so that we can bring him to justice, know his motivations and hopefully find out who his accomplices were, if there were any," Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said on TF1 television.

The operation began before early dawn on Wednesday, and since then Merah has remained barricaded in his home with the gas and electricity cut off.

The police first attempted to detain Merah at around 0200 GMT (3am local) on Wednesday, but the raid erupted into a firefight. The gunman opened fire and wounded three officers, although his neighbors said he seemed keen to negotiate.

Besieged in the apartment, Merah claimed responsibility for the three gun attacks, including France's worst-ever school shooting.

“He has no regrets, except not having more time to kill more people and he boasts that he has brought France to its knees,'' Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said.

Merah admitted killing a rabbi and three young children at a Jewish school on Monday and three French paratroopers last week.

The police believe the terror spree he committed is Al-Qaeda-linked: Merah shouted his claims of allegiance to the terrorist group through his front door.

Merah is a French citizen of Algerian descent. He claims he received training from Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Earlier it was reported he was sentenced to three years in prison in Afghanistan, but escaped in a mass jailbreak orchestrated by the Taliban. These claims were denied by the Kandahar governor later on Wednesday.

The operation underway is the culmination of France's biggest manhunt in 20 years. Following the dramatic killings, campaigning has been frozen for the French presidential election next month.

An undated and non-datelined frame grab from a video broadcast March 21, 2012 by French national television station France 2 who they claim to show Mohamed Merah, the suspect in the killing of 3 paratroopers, 3 children and a rabbi in recent days in France (Reuters / France 2 Television / Handout)
An undated and non-datelined frame grab from a video broadcast March 21, 2012 by French national television station France 2 who they claim to show Mohamed Merah, the suspect in the killing of 3 paratroopers, 3 children and a rabbi in recent days in France (Reuters / France 2 Television / Handout)

New generation “Nike terrorist”

Merah is a French citizen of Algerian descent. He claims he received training from Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Experts dealing with Islamic terrorism are now trying to predict his behaviour.

They say there’s a special term for those who commit attacks simply and decisively – Nike terrorists. That’s because they use the sports company’s motto “Just do it”.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reports the attacks carried out by Mohamed Merah perfectly fit the profile of this new generation of Islamic terrorists.

‘Nike terrorists’ prefer to use any simple means to kill as many people as possible unlike their predecessors who tried to attract attention through spectacular attacks.

If the definition is right, the cornered gunman will try to fire on the policemen until they are forced to kill him.

The operation underway is the culmination of France's biggest manhunt in 20 years. Following the dramatic killings, campaigning has been frozen for the French presidential election next month.

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