March 21, 2012 -- Onlookers have reported loud booms and orange flashes near the apartment building where French murder suspect Mohammed Merah has been under siege by special forces for nearly 24 hours.
The police also turned powerful spotlights on Merah's apartment building in an apparent attempt to blind the heavily armed suspect, who allegedly wounded several police officers earlier in the day. According to Reuters, Merah had said he was going to surrender, and did not, and police used the explosions to try and intimidate him. Negotiations for his surrender have now apparently resumed, according to French media.
Merah, 24, is wanted for the murder of three French soldiers, a rabbi and three Jewish schoolchildren in three separate attacks in Toulouse over the past two weeks.
French special forces surrounded the five-story apartment building in Toulouse at 3 a.m. local time Wednesday.
French prosecutor Francois Molins said that the suspect 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. According to French media, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Jewish community leaders that the suspect had been stopped before he could carry out another terror attack planned for today
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.
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 claims to have ties to al Qaeda and to have trained in Waziristan, and says he acted to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and to protest France's involvement in Afghanistan. Merah threw a Colt .45 out the window of the building early in the siege, but is reportedly still armed with a Kalashnikov, an Uzi and several handguns.
In three separate attacks since March 11, a 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 at dawn Wednesday 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.
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.