Assault on French 'scooter-shooter' pending

Members of the RAID special police forces unit are seen as they 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 21, 2012 in Toulouse, southwestern France. (AFP Photo / Lionel Bonaventure)
French officials now dismiss recent reports of an assault on the flat where the Toulouse school shooting suspect is holed up. The assault is yet to start, they say.

"I confirm that the assault has started," a police source told Reuters earlier. Jean-Pierre Havrin, the deputy mayor of Toulouse, also said that negotiations had ended and the assault had begun.

Three blasts have been heard outside the siege building, and police sources initially confirmed they had blown open the door of the apartment. However, France’s interior ministry later explained that the explosions were aimed at intimidating the gunman, and the assault is still pending.

The 23-year-old man has remained barricaded in his home since the early hours of Wednesday, armed with an Uzi machine gun, Kalashnikov (AK) assault rifle and other weapons. He was identified as Mohammed Merah, a French national of Algerian descent.

Police surrounded Merah's block after three officers were wounded in the dawn raid on the apartment on Wednesday morning. On Wednesday evening, power supplies were switched off in the vicinity of the five-story building. Authorities evacuated other residents of the apartment block, as well as inhabitants of nearby buildings.

Merah had earlier admitted to the killings of seven people, including three children at a Jewish school, and agreed to surrender "late this evening." Police have expressed their intention of capturing him alive, so he can be brought to justice, but they also said they were ready to storm the building if he does not surrender.