French police forces stormed early Thursday the Toulouse residence of Mohamed Merah,
the gunman believed to be responsible for Monday's deadly shooting
at Ozar Hatorah Jewish School in the city.
CNN reported that Merah was apparently shot during the first stage of the police raid. Sky News reported seeing police taking away Merah, who was covered in a blanket, in a car. The reports have not been confirmed. More blasts near the terrorist's house were heard Thursday morning.
The Washington Post reported of an overnight exchange of fire between Merah and the security forces. It was also reported that the terrorist said he owned several firearms and knows how to use them. At around 6:30 am, and after an hour's interval, blasts were again heard near the building, Le Parisien reported.
Three explosions marked the onset of the raid shortly after midnight, blasting through the apartment where Merah has been holed up since 3 am Wednesday and effectively ending nearly 21 hours of negotiations and what has been called one of the most dramatic standoffs France has ever seen.
However, the raid was proceeding slowly, with French officials saying that the blasts were meant to intimidate Merah and prompt him to turn himself in. A second round of blasts and shots was reported later in the night, but authorities said the suspected terrorist, who is believed to be armed with several rifles, continued to barricade himself at the site.
French authorities delayed the raid for as long as possible because their goal was to take Merah alive, a police source told the media. "We don't want him to become a martyr," he said.
Merah, who is also linked to the killing of three French soldiers last week, announced that he would surrender on Wednesday night, but it was later reported that he had asked negotiators for more time.
Toulouse deputy mayor Jean-Pierre Havrin, as well as a police source, confirmed that negotiations had ended and the assault was underway.
As part of the police's preparation for the raid, street lighting in the area was turned off, as troops bolstered their presence on the scene.
According to France's BFM news site, the raid began after authorities concluded that Merah was stalling for time and that he had no intention of surrendering.
The siege placed on the quiet neighborhood in the southwestern city was described by French authorities as the most extensive manhunt mounted in France since a wave of terrorist attacks in the 1990s by Algerian extremists.
Hundreds of police officers cordoned off the streets around Merah's apartment complex on Wednesday. A pre-dawn raid of the premises erupted into a firefight which left three policemen wounded.
Negotiators tried to convince Merah to surrender, as security forces geared for a night-long war of attrition.
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant told local media that Merah set out to kill another soldier on Monday. Failing to find a target, Mareh opened fire at a Jewish school instead.
Gueant said earlier that Merah saught to "avenge the Palestinian children" and to take revenge on the French army for of its foreign interventions.
Prosecutor Francois Molins said Merah was a self-taught radical Salafi who had been to Afghanistan twice and had trained in the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan. He asserted that the gunman had also planned to carry out another shooting on Wednesday before being found by the police.
French authorities – like others in Europe – have long been concerned about "lone-wolf" attacks by young, Internet-savvy militants who self-radicalize online. Molins' comments, however, marked the first time a radical Islamic motive has been ascribed to killings in France in years.
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