The suspected shooter of three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers in Toulouse, France, was arrested in an apartment building after a standoff with hundreds of police officers. An early morning police raid to arrest the shooter turned into a firefight in which three police officers were wounded. The suspect, a Frenchman of Algerian descent, told police he belonged to al-Qaeda and was taking revenge for the Palestinian children killed in the Middle East.
The suspect, Mohammed Merah, was known by local anti-terrorism police and had traveled to the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, an area where al-Qaeda runs training camps.
The commander of the prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan tells CBS News they held a prisoner by the same name in 2008 in connection with a bombing. The suspect was sentenced to three years but escaped later that year along with 600 other prisoners. CBS was unable to confirm that the escaped prisoner was the same one arrested by French police today.
Merah is a member of the Forsan al-Izza, “Knights of Glory,” a group which the French government banned in January over suspicions it was recruiting Jihadists to Afghanistan. The group had no immediate reaction to Merah’s attack.
The bodies of the the rabbi and three children were flown to Jerusalem. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe accompanied relatives of the dead from France to Israel. At least 2,000 mourners gathered today at the Givat Shaul cemetery on the western outskirts of the city to mourn the deaths. “Talking to local French speaking people here and even to one Israeli minister,” a BBC reporter said, “they all said that this is a problem in France, anti-Semitism is still rife in France.” Watch the BBC’s report:
In a television address, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he had held a meeting with Jewish and Muslim leaders.
I told them and I tell the nation that we should be united. We cannot give in to discrimination or vengeance. We owe this to the victims who have been killed in cold blood and to our country.
Reports that the shooter has surrendered to police are inaccurate. Reuters reports that “French Interior Minister Claude Gueant denied media reports that Merah had been arrested.” About 300 police, some in body armor, are now surrounding the apartment in which Merah is holed up. The Interior Minister reported that Merah had thrown a Colt 45 pistol out of a window in exchange for a mobile phone, but was still armed.