Firemen, special unit police outside French Shooter apt 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jean-Philippe Arles )
TOULOUSE, France - A 23-year-old gunman who said al-Qaida inspired him to kill seven people in France died from a gunshot wound to the head on Thursday as he scrambled out of a ground-floor window during a gunbattle with elite police commandos.
Mohamed Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, died in a hail of bullets at the end of a 30-hour standoff with police at his apartment in southern France and after confessing to killing three soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi.
He was firing frantically at police from a Colt 45 pistol as he climbed through his apartment window onto a verandah and toppled to the ground some 5 feet (1.5 meters) below, in a suburb of the city of Toulouse, according to prosecutors and police.
Two police commandos were injured in the operation - a dramatic climax to a siege which riveted the world after the killings shook France a month before a presidential election.
"At the moment when a video probe was sent into the bathroom, the killer came out of the bathroom, firing with extreme violence," Interior Minister Claude Gueant told reporters at the scene.
"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."
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Merah had taken refuge in his bathroom, wearing a bullet-proof vest under his traditional black djellaba robe, as elite police blasted his flat through the night with flash grenades.
Police investigators were working to establish whether Merah had worked alone or with accomplices, Molins said, adding that Merah had filmed his three shooting attacks with a camera hung from his body and had indicated that he had posted clips online.
The most disturbing image of the attacks showed him grabbing a young girl at a Jewish school on Monday by the hair and shooting her in the head before escaping on a scooter.
The killings have raised questions about whether there were intelligence failures, what the attacks mean for social cohesion and race relations in France and how the aftermath will affect President Nicolas Sarkozy's slim chances of re-election.
Sarkozy called Merah's killings terrorist attacks and announced a crackdown
on people following extremist websites.
"From now on, any person who habitually consults websites that advocate terrorism or that call for hate and violence will be punished," he said in a statement. "France will not tolerate ideological indoctrination on its soil."
Elite RAID commandos had been in a standoff since the early hours of Wednesday with Merah, periodically firing shots or deploying small explosives until mid-morning on Thursday to try and tire out the gunman so he could be captured.
Surrounded by some 300 police, Merah had been silent and motionless for 12 hours when the commandos opted to go inside.
Initially, he had fired through his front door at police when they swooped on his flat on Wednesday morning, but later he negotiated with police, promising to give himself up and saying he did not want to die.
By late Wednesday evening, he changed tack again, telling negotiators he wanted to die "like a Mujahideen", weapon in hand, and would not go to prison, Molins said.
"If it's me (who dies), too bad, I will go to paradise. If it's you, too bad for you," Molins quoted Merah as saying.