By: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
TOULOUSE, France - After a pre-dawn raid erupted into a firefight, French riot police pressed Wednesday for the surrender of a holed-up gunman who is suspected in seven killings and claiming allegiance to al-Qaida. A prosecutor said the gunman was planning to kill another soldier imminently.
After 13 hours of negotiations, one French official said hundreds of police were ready to storm the building in the southwestern city of Toulouse to end the standoff.
Three police have already been wounded trying to arrest the 24-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent who is suspected of killing three Jewish children, a rabbi and three French paratroopers.
Prosecutor Francois Molins said the gunman, Mohamed Merah, had been to Afghanistan twice and had trained in the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan. Molins said the gunman's brother had been implicated in a network that sent militant fighters to Iraq.
The police raid Wednesday was part of France's biggest manhunt since a wave of terrorist attacks in the 1990s by Algerian extremists. The chase began after France's worst-ever school shooting Monday and two previous attacks on paratroopers, killings that have horrified the country and frozen the campaigning for the French presidential election starting next month.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has played up nationalist themes in his bid for a second term
Cedric Delage, regional secretary for a police union, said the suspect has promised to turn himself into police shortly. Delage said if that doesn't happen, police will force their way in.
The suspect has told police he belonged to al-Qaida and wanted to take revenge for Palestinian children killed in the Middle East, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said, adding the man was also angry about French military intervention abroad.
"He's after the army," Gueant said.
An Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the suspect has been under surveillance for years for having "fundamentalist" views.
- Duncan Crawford, BBC reporter in Toulouse
This segment aired on March 21, 2012.
Support the news
Support the news