An al-Qaeda-inspired gunman who killed seven people in France died on Thursday after jumping out of a window of his apartment, where he had been holed up for some 30 hours in a standoff with police, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said.
Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian origin, had been silent for hours but opened fire on special forces who stormed the building and was killed in the ensuing gunbattle.
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"At the moment when a video probe was sent into the bathroom, the killer came out of the bathroom, firing with extreme violence," Gueant told reporters at the scene, adding that Merah was firing several guns at once. Gueant said that the RAID squad had "never seen an assault like it."
"In the end, Merah jumped from the window with his gun in his hand, continuing to fire. He was found dead on the ground," he said.
Special forces after raid (Photo: Reuters)
French media reports said two police commandos were wounded in a shootout with the suspect, one in serious condition.
Earlier on Thursday Minister Claude Gueant said Merah wanted to "die with weapons in his hands."
Suspicions had surfaced that the gunman, who had been holed up in an apartment in the southern city of Toulouse, may have already committed suicide. Gueant said Thursday morning that the suspect had not contacted negotiators since Wednesday night, adding "it's rather strange that he never reacted" to the detonations overnight.
Authorities say Merah has boasted about carrying out the shootings of three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi, and three French paratroopers in three separate incidents over the last two weeks. They are believed to be the first incidents of killings inspired by Islamic radical motives in France in more than a decade.
Authorities said the shooter, a French citizen of Algerian descent, had been to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he claimed to have received training from al-Qaeda.
Merah's lawyer predicted a dramatic and somber end to the standoff. "He wants to show he is exceptional, omnipotent, and this approach can only end up as something tragic," Christian Etelin said on news channel i-Tele on Thursday.
He said Merah had tried to join the military but was rejected. He said Merah was also disillusioned after a string of convictions for petty crimes and after efforts to reduce his sentences through work programs failed.
French Minister Gueant talks to reporters (Photo: AFP)
"He felt rejected by the periods of detention he was handed out, and for his wish to defend France in the army. Now, he is in a process of hate," Etelin said.
"He has no regrets, except not having more time to kill more people and he boasts that he has brought France to its knees," said prosecutor Francois Molins told a news conference Wednesday.
Meanwhile, French media revealed Merah's next targets – commander of Toulouse's counter-terrorism unit and a senior official in the local intelligence agency DCRI.
The Le Point news website reported Thursday that Merah had acquired a large number of weapons in the Toulouse area and was aided by a mysterious and unidentified man.
It was also reported that Merah had traveled to Pakistan in 2010 to marry a local woman but was expelled from the country before the planned wedding.
AP, Reuters, AFP and Ynet contributed to this report
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