French police at scene of Toulouse standoff 370 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier)
French police sources said that officers entered the apartment where suspect Toulouse shooting suspect Mohamed Merah was holed up for over 30 hours, France 24 reported Thursday afternoon. What appeared to be heavy gunfire was heard at the scene. Police were also said to be firing gas into the apartment.
Three police trade union sources told Reuters that Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old French citizen of Algerian origin who has confessed to killing three Jewish children and four adults, was dead, but there was no official confirmation.
Three French police officers were reportedly wounded in the raid, one seriously.
An hour earlier, three loud explosions were heard at the scene, which were believed to be stun grenades thrown by police.
Police had lost contact with the 24-year-old gunman suspected of killing seven people in the name of al-Qaida and there has been no sign of life from his apartment in southwestern France for 10 hours, a minister said earlier in the morning.
More than a day after 300 police first surrounded the five-story building in a suburb of the city of Toulouse, Merah, who has confessed to killing three soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi, had yet to give himself up.
"Despite renewed efforts all through the night to reestablish contact by voice and radio, there has been no contact, no showing from him," French Interior Minister Claude Gueant told RTL radio on Thursday, adding that he still hoped Merah could be captured alive.
Rain poured down on police, firemen, media and around a dozen bystanders who spent the night outside the apartment.
Merah, a French citizen of Algerian origin, boasted to police negotiators on Wednesday night that he had brought France to its knees and said his only regret was not having been able to carry out plans for more killings.
He told negotiators that he killed the seven to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and because of French army involvement in Afghanistan. He filmed the shootings of the children and the rabbi on Monday using a camera strapped to him.
Merah, who told police negotiators he had accepted a mission from al-Qaida after receiving training in the lawless border area of Pakistan, had identified another soldier and two police officers he wanted to kill, investigators said on Wednesday.
"He has no regrets, except not having more time to kill more people and he boasts that he has brought France to its knees," Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins, part of the anti-terrorist unit leading the investigation, told a news conference .
The gunman negotiated with police all Wednesday, promising to give himself up and saying that he did not want to die.
"He's explained that he's not suicidal, he doesn't have the soul of a martyr and he prefers to kill but to stay alive himself," the prosecutor said.