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Wednesday
Mar212012

Toulouse Massacre Suspect Surrounded; Claims Al Qaeda Ties 

Stringer/Getty Images UPDATE: French prosecutor Francois Molins said that 24-year-old suspect Mohammed Merah had taken responsibility for the attacks, and had been planning to "act again by killing a soldier whom he had already identified" and two Toulouse police officers. Molins also said a camera had been found in a bag belonging to Merah, and that Merah claimed to have uploaded footage of his attacks on the web, though no trace has yet been found of the videos.

(TOULOUSE, France)-- French special forces have surrounded a five-story apartment building in Toulouse where the suspect wanted for the murder of three French soldiers, a rabbi and three Jewish schoolchildren has now been holed up for more than ten hours.

According to French media, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Jewish community leaders that 24-year-old suspect Mohammed Merah had been stopped before he could carry out another terror attack planned for Wednesday.

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Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent, is heavily armed and has already wounded two officers in a shoot out with police. According to French authorities, Merah may have spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years, claims to have ties to al Qaeda and says he acted to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and to protest France's involvement in Afghanistan. Merah has thrown a Colt .45 out the window of the building, but is reportedly still armed with a Kalashnikov, an Uzi and several handguns.

In three separate attacks since March 11, the lone gunman on a motorcycle has killed seven people and wounded four others. In each case, the gunman arrived on a Yamaha scooter and shot the victims in the head at close range with a Colt .45. Three paratroopers, all of North African descent, died in the first two attacks, while an attack on the Ozar Hatorah school Monday morning took the lives of a rabbi and three children.

Investigators tracked Merah down, according to authorities, because one of his brothers allegedly asked a motorcycle sales assistant how to modify the GPS tracker on a motorbike, raising suspicions. The sales assistant contacted the police.

Hundreds of police officers carried out the raid Wednesday morning and evacuated the apartment building, escorting residents out using the roof and fire truck ladders.

Prior to the siege, an unidentified caller told a French television network that he had filmed the attacks and that the footage would be placed on the Web. On Tuesday, a French official said that a witness had reported seeing what appeared to be a small camera hanging from the neck of the shooter at the Jewish school.

French interior minister Claude Gueant said Merah had made several visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was arrested in Kandahar a few years ago and had been on their watch list for years.

President Sarkozy reportedly told Jewish community leaders that Merah had planned to "kill a member of the military" on Wednesday.

While police were surrounding Merah in Toulouse, the victims of the shootings at the Ozer Hatorah school were buried in Jerusalem. Thousands of mourners gathered to pay their respects in an emotional ceremony. A funeral for the three members of the military gunned down was underway in Mautauban, attended by President Sarkozy and his two main rivals in France's upcoming presidential election.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio