A siege on a house in Toulouse where a 24-year-old man, a French national of Algerian decent with possible links to al-Qaeda, is holed is still ongoing. Mohammed Merah is suspected in the murder of four people, including three children, at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday.
The suspect said he would turn himself in sometime on Wednesday afternoon.
- EU corrects Ashton speech transcript
- 'Racist killer in France could strike again'
- 'Toulouse killer executed the little girl'
France 24 quoted Merah as saying, "I will go to prison with my head held high or die with a smile. Nothing else." It is not clear how the station obtained the quote.
A police source said the raid began at 3 am local time (0200 GMT). Sky News reported that negotiations with the suspect have broken down and that officers are preparing to storm the house.
At around 12:30 pm (Israel time) it was reported that security forces began evacuating the building in which the suspect is barricaded in. It remains unclear whether the evacuation was part of a plan by police to storm his residence.
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said Merah had at one point cut off contact with police surrounding his home. Police later reestablished contact with the suspect.
Judicial officials said three of his relatives have been arrested.
The suspect claims to be linked to al-Qaeda, Gueant said. "He claims to be a mujahideen and to belong to al-Qaeda," the minister told journalists at the scene of the siege.
Building where suspect lives in Toulouse (Photo: AFP)
He also said the man had been in Afghanistan. "He wanted revenge for the Palestinian children and he also wanted to take revenge on the French army because of its foreign interventions," Gueant said.
He said that police were also talking to the brother of the man who, Gueant said, was 24 years old.
"Negotiations with the suspect are ongoing, gunfire has been exchanged," the minister said.
French police raid Toulouse house (Photo: Reuters)
Meanwhile, the BBC reported that investigators said was identified because of an email message he sent to his first victim. According to AFP, the suspect has been previously arrested in Kandahar, Afghanistan. French media also reported that the girlfriend of the suspect's brother has also been arrested.
Minister Gueant said that France's President Nicolas Sarkozy had been informed of the situation at 03:00 am (0200 GMT), when the raid began. He said at least two police officers have been injured in the raid. One officer was injured in the knee and another officer lightly injured in ensuing exchanges of fire, Gueant said.
Special forces outside suspects' house (Photo: AFP)
Officers brought the suspect's mother to the scene and tried to get her to help negotiate, but she refused, saying "she had little influence on him," Gueant said.
French news channel BFM TV said the suspects were linked to an Islamist group which it identified as Forsane Alizza. BFM said police were negotiating with a 24-year-old man inside the house.
Reuters witnesses at the scene heard several shots at about 0440 GMT.
Three officers injured in raid (Photo: MCT)
Heavily armed police in bullet-proof vests and helmets cordoned off the residential area where the raid was taking place, in a leafy suburb close to the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school where Monday's shootings took place.
The French interior minister announced that the suspect said he would turn himself in sometime on Wednesday afternoon. The minister noted that police want to take him alive.
He added that the suspect threw a handgun out window but has other arms.
Meanwhile, the bodies of the four victims landed at the Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday morning. They will be buried at the Givat Shaul cemetery in Jerusalem at 10 am on Wednesday.
Authorities believe that the gunman in Monday's school shooting was the same person responsible for killing three soldiers of North African origin in two shootings last week in Toulouse and the nearby town of Montauban.
A third soldier, of Caribbean origin, remains in a coma.
The same Colt 45 handgun was used in all three attacks and in each case the gunman arrived on a Yamaha scooter with his face hidden by a motorcycle helmet.
Reuters, AP and AFP contributed to this report
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop