TOULOUSE, France - A 23-year-old gunman suspected of killing seven people in southwestern France in the name of al-Qaida, jumped from a window to his death in a hail of bullets after police stormed his apartment on Thursday.
"At the moment when a video probe was sent into the bathroom, the killer came out of the bathroom, firing with extreme violence," French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said, adding that Merah was firing several guns at once.
"In the end, Mohamed Merah jumped from the window with his gun in his hand, continuing to fire. He was found dead on the ground," he told reporters at the scene. Two police commandos were wounded in the operation.
Special forces entered the five-story building in a suburb of Toulouse after besieging Merah since early on Wednesday.
Gueant said earlier police hoped to capture Merah, who had confessed to police negotiators to killing three soldiers as well as three Jewish children and a rabbi at a school, alive.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose already slim chances of beating off a Socialist challenger in next month's presidential election may be affected by his handling of the crisis, has vowed justice will be done and urged people not to seek revenge.
Speaking less than two hours after Gueant's announcement, Sarkozy praised security forces for ensuring that the "horrible killer" who shot to death three Jewish school children, a rabbi and three soldiers, "is no longer in a position to bring harm." Sarkozy outlined new tools for law enforcement to use against terrorists and called for national unity.
Early on Thursday, the first opinion poll since the school shooting showed Sarkozy would narrowly beat Socialist Francois Hollande in the first-round vote. But Hollande was seen at eight percentage points ahead in the second round.
There had been a long silence overnight from Merah, who said he wanted to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and French army involvement in Afghanistan.
"Despite renewed efforts all through the night to reestablish contact by voice and radio, there has been no contact, no showing from him," Gueant said.
A police source said that the lack of activity picked up by night vision goggles could merely mean that Merah was merely asleep but time was pressing to investigate. "At some point soon we'll have to go in and see," the source said.
Merah, a French citizen of Algerian origin who had been under intelligence surveillance for years, shot at police as they closed in on him in the early hours of Wednesday and later boasted to negotiators that he had brought France to its knees.
He said his only regret was not having been able to carry out more killings.