French gunman dies in hail of bullets

Updated: 2012-03-23 07:09


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French gunman dies in hail of bullets 

French special unit policemen leave the scene after the assault to capture gunman Mohamed Merah 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. [Photo/Agencies] 

TOULOUSE, France - A 23-year-old gunman who said al Qaeda inspired him to kill seven people in France died in a hail of bullets on Thursday as he scrambled out of a ground-floor window during a gunbattle with elite police commandos.

Mohamed Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, died from a gunshot wound to his head at the end of a 30-hour standoff with police at his apartment in southern France and after confessing to killing three soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi.

"A killer wanted, according to his own words, to bring France to its knees by sowing hatred and terror. He has been neutralised," President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is running for re-election next month, told a campaign rally in the eastern city of Strasbourg.

Merah fired frantically at police from a Colt 45 pistol as he climbed through his apartment window onto a verandah and toppled to the ground some 5 feet (1.5 metres) below, according to prosecutors and police.

Two police commandos were injured in the operation - a dramatic climax to a siege in a suburb of the city of Toulouse which riveted the world after the killings shook France a month before a presidential election.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant told reporters at the scene that Merah emerged from the bathroom firing repeatedly when police pushed a video probe into the room. "In the end, Mohamed Merah jumped from the window with his gun in his hand, continuing to fire. He was found dead on the ground."

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Merah had taken refuge in his bathroom, wearing a bullet-proof vest under his traditional black djellaba robe, as police blasted his flat through the night with flash grenades.

Opposition leaders demanded to know how Merah was able to amass a sizeable weapons cache and embark on his killing spree despite being under surveillance and having been questioned as recently as November by the DCRI domestic intelligence service following a trip to Afghanistan.

"Since the DCRI was following Mohamed Merah for a year, how come they took so long to locate him?" Socialist party security spokesman Francois Rebsamen, saying Merah was top of a DCRI regional watchlist.

In Washington, two US officials said Merah was on a US government "no fly" list, barring him from boarding any US-bound aircraft. The officials said that his name had been on the list for some time.

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