French gunman Mohammed Merah shot dead in police raid

Laura Rozen
March 22, 2012

Mohammed Merah, the 23-year-old French gunman who confessed to killing seven people in the city of Toulouse in southwest France, is dead after being shot in the head by a police sniper during a final dramatic shootout with French police. It was the culmination of a 31-hour standoff with hundreds of French anti-terror police who had surrounded the building where Merah had barricaded himself.

French Interior Minister Claude Gueant told reporters Thursday that Merah had ceased communicating with negotiators around midnight, after discussing a possible surrender, giving rise to speculation he might have committed suicide. "But when heavily armed paramilitary police entered the apartment through the door and several windows about 10:30 a.m., Gueant said, Merah burst out of the bathroom, blasting away with several weapons," the Washington Post's Edward Cody reported. Gueant said Mareh had fired at police before jumping out of the window where "he was found dead on the ground below."

The Interior Minister wouldn't answer whether Merah had died in the fall or was shot by police, though France 24 commentators noted that the jump from the first-floor window was unlikely to have killed him. French prosecutors later clarified in a news conference Thursday that Merah was shot in the head by a police sniper after he tried to flee.

French prosecutor Francois Molins also confirmed Thursday that they had found video in Mareh's apartment, apparently of his perpetrating the killings. A France 24 news editor, Ebba Kalondo, said Mareh had claimed in a phone call this week with her that he had filmed all of the shootings. Kalonda also remarked that Mareh was exceptionally composed in their 11-minute call, which came shortly before police closed in on his building Wednesday.

Earlier, Molins told journalists that Merah had claimed responsibility for killing three young children and their teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse and three French paratroopers, who like he, were of North African descent. Merah cited the death of Palestinian children in Gaza and opposition to France's role in the NATO peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan as the reason for targeting French troops and Jewish schoolchildren.

Merah also reportedly claimed sympathies for al-Qaida and to have trained in jihadi camps on at least two previous trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan, most recently in 2011.

Update: This post was updated at 10:40 a.m. ET with information from French prosecutors that Mohammed Mareh died from a shot to the head by a police sniper.

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