Terrorist stand-off ends with death in shoot-out

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AN Islamic extremist wanted by the French authorities for the murders of seven people was shot dead by police yesterday as he leapt from the window of his apartment firing at officers after a 32-hour siege.

In dramatic scenes, a masked French SWAT team slipped into the apartment of Mohamed Merah, sparking a firefight that ended a deadly stand-off in a suburb of Toulouse.

The 23-year-old was wanted over the murders of three French paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi – all killed since March 11 in what he reportedly told police was an attempt to “bring France to its knees”.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking in Paris yesterday, said an investigation was under way to see if Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent who claimed links to al-Qaida, had any accomplices.

His mother and a brother were detained on Wednesday by police after the mother's computer became a critical link in tracking Merah down.

The brother Abdelkader had already been linked to Iraqi Islamist networks.

Mr Sarcozy also announced tough new measures to combat terrorism as it was confirmed police had found chilling videos of the murders.

Prosecutor Francois Molins said Merah had made “extremely explicit films” of all three deadly attacks, and said that he had posted them online.

In the film of the March 11 attack that killed a paratrooper, the prosecutor said the gunman is heard saying: “You kill my brothers – I kill you.”

In his film of the second, on March 15 that killed two paratroopers and wounded a third in nearby Montauban, Merah cried out “Allahu Akbar!” or “God is great” in Arabic, the prosecutor said.

Authorities spoke little about the video of Merah slaying a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday. A witness said it had described him shooting young children in the head,

Merah told negotiators he killed to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and to protest at the French army’s involvement in Afghanistan. He was also upset over a government ban last year on Islamic veils.

Molins said Merah told investigators where to find the bag with the videos of the slayings, caught by a camera that had been strapped to his chest and given to someone else to keep.

He had also directed officers to a car he rented where a stash of arms was recovered.

The weapons included an automatic Sten pistol, a revolver, a pump-action rife and an Uzi submachine gun.

Police had been trying to capture him alive since a pre-dawn raid on his apartment on Wednesday in the south-western city. Police moved in because they feared a further attack was imminent.

The state prosecutor said off-and-on negotiations – all recorded – broke down at night. Merah, after initially saying he would surrender, later said he would resist, and that it would be either them or him.

“If it’s me, who cares? I’ll go to paradise,” he quoted Merah as saying.

Mr Molins said Merah burst out of his bathroom when police carefully entered his apartment, wildly firing his gun before leaping out of an apartment window.

"(He) launches an assault, charging police through the apartment and firing at them with a Colt .45, continuing to advance, armed and firing, as he jumps from the balcony," Molins said.

Merah fired "until he was hit by a retaliatory shot from the RAID (elite police unit), which felled him with a bullet to the head," Molins said.

The prosecutor said police fired in self-defence after going in cautiously through the front door, using robot cameras to see if there were any boobytraps. Three members of the special squad were wounded, bringing the total of injured French officers throughout the stand-off to five.

Merah, lying on the ground below his second-storey apartment, was wearing a flak jacket and black djellabah robe. A Colt 45 - the type of weapon used in the three attacks - was at his side along with a sack.

Ingredients for Molotov cocktails were stashed on his apartment balcony. Inside, were three empty ammunition clips, a pot packed with pieces of ammunition and a Colt .45 with a near-empty clip.

Authorities said he espoused a radical form of Islam and had been to Afghanistan and the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan, where he claimed to have received training from al-Qaida. He also had a long record of petty crimes in France for which he served time in prison.