One official told AFP that the suspect had been "in the sights" of France's intelligence agency after two previous attacks, which led police to bring in more "crucial evidence".
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French media have linked the suspect to a group called Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride) that was banned by Interior Minister Claude Gueant in January.
Police surround suspect's home (Photo: AFP)
They say the suspect was arrested for bomb making in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar in 2007 but broke out of jail months later after a daring Taliban prison break, the director of prisons in Kandahar told Reuters.
Ghulam Faruq said that Merah was detained by security services on Dec. 19, 2007 and was sentenced to three years in jail for planting bombs in Kandahar province, the Taliban's birthplace.
Gueant said the 24-year-old suspect had spoken to officers through the door of his apartment, and declared himself to be a "mujaheedeen" or Islamic warrior fighting to avenge Palestinian children killed in the conflict with Israel.
"He has links with people involved in Jihadism and Salafism," he added, referring to two strains of Muslim thought that have influenced Al-Qaeda.
The shootings began on March 11, when a paratrooper of North African origin arranged to meet a man in Toulouse to sell him a scooter which he had advertised online, revealing in the ad his military status.
A message sent from the suspect's brother's IP address was used to set up an appointment to inspect the bike, an appointment at which paratrooper Imad Ibn Ziaten was subsequently killed, a police source said.
Ibn Ziaten, a 30-year-old staff sergeant in France's 1st Airborne Transportation Regiment, was shot in the head at close range with a .45 caliber pistol, a method that was to become the suspect's signature.
Same gun, scooter
Four days later three more paratroopers from another regiment were gunned down - two of them fatally - in the same fashion in a street in the nearby garrison town of Montauban.
The dead - Corporal Abel Chennouf, 25, and Private First Class Mohammed Legouade, 23, both of the 17th Parachute Engineering Regiment -- were French soldiers of North African Arab origin.
Arab soldiers are prized targets for groups like Al-Qaeda, which regards Muslims who fight for Western armies as traitors.
Then on Monday the shooter, still wearing a motorcycle helmet and riding a scooter, attacked the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse, killing a rabbi, his toddler sons and a seven-year-old girl.
Anti-terrorist magistrates said the same gun and make of scooter was used in all three attacks and noted that the three attacks were carried out at precise four-day intervals.
On Wednesday at 3 am residents of a quiet Toulouse neighborhood were woken up by gun shots as some 300 police officers deployed in the area, cordoning off the suspects house. Some of the policemen were wounded in a fire exchange with Merah.
Armed officers investigating three recent attacks in which a scooter-riding killer gunned down seven people, including three Jewish children, sealed off an address in a residential district of the southern city of Toulouse.
Reuters contributed to the report
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