11.45 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has paid a visit to the the families of four people killed by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse on Monday. Three French-Israeli children and a teacher, who were gunned down on Monday morning at a Jewish school in southern France, were buried in Jerusalem on Wednesday during a funeral attended by thousands. During a condolence call to Eva Sandler, who lost her 30-year-old husband Jonathan and her two sons, Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 4, Netanyahu said Israel was created as a safe haven from just such threats. He said:
I saw the depth of the grief and pain of a young mother who is feeding a baby, who lost her husband and two of her little children, the agony of life cut short and hope which was crushed, and I think to myself: what cruelty, what barbarity can cause a man to do an act which is so inhumane.
For these murderers, wherever a Jews walks, every centimetre of land he walks on, is occupied territory. From their perspective, Jews have no place in the world. They want to murder Jews wherever they are, and for that reason the state of Israel was established.
Netanyahu then went on to meet the family of seven-year-old Myriam Monsonego, whose father is the principle of the Toulouse school where the shooting occurred.
French Ambassador Christophe Bigot said he had come to show France’s “strong solidarity” with the bereaved families.
Those kids were our kids. They were French kids and also Israeli kids.
11.39 President Nicolas Sarkozy praised police and security services for bringing the siege to a close. In a statement, he said:
I wish to congratulate all the security forces after the denouement of the tragic events of Montauban and Toulouse. Our thoughts at this time are particularly with the people murdered or injured by the presumed killer.
11.16am: Gu?ant adds that Merah burst out of the bathroom as video surveillance equipment approached. He began firing with extreme ferocity.
11.13am: “Last night, our last contact with the killer showed us just how dangerous he was. This morning the decison was taken to intervene,” said Gu?ant.
Mohammed Merah jumped out of the window, weapon in hand, and carried on firing. He was found dead on the ground.”
11.09am: The French interior minister, Claude Gu?ant, has confirmed that Merah is dead and paid tribute to the police who conducted the raid.
11.03 French Interior Minister Claude Gueant has just given a remarkable description of the gun battle which ended in Mohammed Merah’s death less than half an hour ago. He said the police decided to storm the building after the gunman had threatened to kill police and refused to surrender late last night. Describing the raid itself, he said:
We sent in special cameras to be able to see where he was but we could not locate him. It was when we were able to locate him in the bathroom that he came out shooting madly at everybody.
The police had never seen anything like this kind of violence and the RAID police had to protect themselves.
Merah jumped out of the window and continued to shoot. He was found dead on the ground.
10:57 Ambulance crews are carrying a stretcher out of the building. Claude Gueant and a group of police are coming over to make a statement.
10.35 Police sources say Mohammed Merah is dead.
10.34 It would appear that the siege is over – 32 and a half hours since it began.
10.31 After five minutes of almost non-stop gunfire interspersed with explosions, silence seems to have fallen in the building.
10.30 The scene: one of “tense anticipation” but says dozens of residents and even children are milling around at the scene trying to catch a glimpse of the action.
10.29 Huge barrage of automatic gunfire. The firefight is intensifying.
10.35 Police sources say Mohammed Merah is dead, reports Fiona Govan.
10.34 It would appear that the siege is over – 32 and a half hours since it began.
10.31 After five minutes of almost non-stop gunfire interspersed with explosions, silence seems to have fallen in the building.
10.30 The scene is described as one of “tense anticipation” but says dozens of residents and even children are milling around at the scene trying to catch a glimpse of the action.
10.29 Huge barrage of automatic gunfire. The fire fight is intensifying.
10.28 The gunfire sounds as if it is coming from two different directions rather than the same source. Volley after volley of automatic gunfire and several explosions.? sounds as if it is coming from two different directions rather than the same source.
10:25 Have been told that the three explosions heard just under an hour ago were flash bombs/ stun grenades.
10.21 Police sources say officers are moving “step by step” through Merah’s flat for fear of booby traps.
10.12 Police sources are also now confirming what we told you a moment ago that RAID officers are now in Merah’s flat.
10.10 AFP says that the siege is coming to an end.
The source said the siege was “rapidly” moving to its conclusion but would not say whether authorities believed suspect Mohamed Merah was alive or dead.
10.08 We now have video footage from the scene at the time of the three blasts.
10.06 AFP says a police source has told them the siege is coming to an end.
10.01 RAID officers have entered the building, according France 2tv’s live blog. I spied this via Le Monde on Twitter.
09.52 Reuters claims that the three recent explosions were much louder than those during the night:
The blasts were much bigger than periodic small explosions that police have been setting off around the five-storey building since the early hours of Wednesday in an attempt to tire out Mohamed Merah and capture him alive.
09.46 Le Monde’s sleep-deprived Soren Seelow has similar thoughts on the explosions, saying they sounded similar to those last night and could be aimed at getting a reaction from the gunman.
09.40 AFP reports that an ambulance was then seen passing through a security cordon immediately after the three blasts were heard.
09.35 Three blast have been heard at the scene in the last minute. Fiona Govan says:
It didn’t sound like gunfire, more like explosions. We heard similar blasts last night and nothing happened. It is possible that this is a simlar tactic to try to get the gunman’s attention.
09.30 Nick Squires reports that Merah reportedly became a fanatic after a stint in jail.
A woman who knew Mohamed Merah as a boy and then saw him descend into a life of petty crime spoke to The Daily Telegraph at the scene of the siege.Malika, 40, who declined to give her full name, is a bus driver in the area where the siege is taking place. She says he turned from a life of petty crime to radical Islam after being sent to prison. She said:
He was a normal kid, very cute, with no problems at all. But he started to get into trouble ? he became a delinquent. Things started to degenerate when he was in his teens. He did some hold-ups of shops, he snatched bags. They sent him to prison before he was even in his twenties. He must have met someone inside who introduced him to radical ideas because when he came out, his mother told me that he was completely changed. She had no idea how to relate to him anymore. His older brother is even more radical and the two of them went off to Afghanistan together, along with the older brother?s girlfriend. Their mother lost all contact with them then.
09.24 The Telegraph’s Fiona Govan writes from the scene:
Firemen in street outside apartment can be seen donning oxygen masks and helmets.
09.12 Video footage reportedly showing Mohammed Merah ragging a BMW around a car park and making gun gestures at the camera have been posted on YouTube. People claiming to be friends of Merah have said he is fond of fast cars.
09.07 Sky News reports that a stretcher has arrived at the scene. Live footage shows firemen walking around carrying ladders.
09.00 Well that’s 31 hours since the siege began. So far, Mohammed Merah has not been true to his word, having promised yesterday to surrender at 2.30pm then “late in the evening”.
08.59 Sounds like France’s interior minister is right in the thick of the action. Le Figaro’s live blog on the Toulouse siege says Claude Gu?ant is in a command post just 50 metres from the besieged building holding discussions with police and RAID chiefs Fr?d?ric P?chenard, Christian Lothion and Amaury de Hauteclocque. Fran?ois Molins, the Paris prosecutor is also there. Could this be the precursor for a final push or maybe some kind of announcement?
08.44 Reports from the scene suggest the police, ambulance and fire services’ presence at the scene has increased overnight. That would tally with images we have received from during the night.
08.30 French Interior Minister Claude Gueant has defended French agencies against criticism that they failed to pick up Merah despite claims that he was trained by Al-Qaeda on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. He said:
The DCRI (domestic intelligence agency) tracks a lot of people who are involved in Islamist radicalism. Expressing ideas… is not enough to bring someone before justice.
He said that there had never been any “criminal tendencies” in Islamist radicals in the Toulouse area and no indication that any attacks were being prepared. Officials have said Merah acted alone and Gueant said it was extremely difficult to fight against “an isolated individual”.
These so-called lone wolves are formidable opponents.
07.34 French Interior Minister Claude Gueant has elaborated on his reasons for questioning whether Merah is still alive. He said
We have one priority: to take him alive so that he can surrender to face justice. We hope he is still alive.Despite renewed efforts all through the night to reestablish contact by voice and radio, there has been no contact, no sign of him.
He noted it was “quite strange that he did not react” when police exploded a series of charges overnight to get his attention. Gueant added:
We heard two shots, we don’t know what they were.
07.25 Nick Squires has the following round-up from the scene:
It is not yet clear this morning who fired the shots overnight at the apartment where Mohamed Merah is beseiged. The French authorities have not yet said whether it was they who fired the shots, or the gunman. He is known to have a stash of weapons with him in the apartment block in Toulouse where he is holed up, including a Kalashnikov assault rifle and an Uzi 9mm submachine gun. It is also thought he may have hand grenades.
There are unconfirmed reports this morning that the authorities have resumed negotiations with Merah, who is accused of killing seven people in recent days – three Jewish school children, a rabbi and three French paratroopers.
07.18 The UK national newspapers all covered the story today, although after such a busy news day yesterday (Budget, Judith Tebbutt etc), some have placed it in the back of the book. Most have gone in on Merah’s alleged wish to kill more victims. The Times has a page 4/5 spread under the headline “My only regret is not being able to find more victims, killer boasts to siege police”. The Guardian put the story on the front reporting: “Hit squad surrounds flat as man admits Toulouse killings.” The Daily Mirror also placed the story prominently with an 8/9 spread headed “I WANT TO KILL MORE”.
07.10 AFP is also quoting French Interior Minister Claude Gueant as saying he believes Merah wants to die “with weapons in hand”.
07.07 French authorities are now questioning whether Mohammed Merah is still alive. We’ll bring you more on this as we get it.
6.53 Things have gone very quiet at the scene at the siege enters its 29th hour. The Telegraph’s Nick Squires writes from Toulouse:
Day two of the siege and Mohamed Merah is still holed up in an apartment block in Toulouse, surrounded by French police. The French authorities are clearly happy to play a waiting game. We had fully expected to be woken in the middle of the night with news that they had stormed the flat, but the seige continues. The police hold the upper hand – they have time on their side, while Merah is inside his apartment, enduring cold and darkness. Police fired shots during the night, and detonated two loud explosions around dawn – they may have been grenades. Three other explosions were heard at around 11.30pm last night. The plan seems to be to intimidate and exhaust Merah until he gives himself up.
05.50 Pierre-Henry Brandet, a spokesman for the interior ministry, has confirmed the explosions are designed to intimidate the gunman into surrendering. He said police were continuing the blasts at hourly intervals to exhaust the suspect and make him easier to capture unharmed.
These were moves to intimidate the gunman who seems to have changed his mind and does not want to surrender
05.45 Explosions continue to be heard around the building. The blasts have so far blown a hole in a wall and flattened the door of the main building.
04.38 French website Rue89 has created a useful Googlemap of the area with placemarks to show the positions of police, journalists, and where street lighting has been cut.
The red mark is where suspect Mohammed Merah is hiding, the blue points are the positions of the police and the aqua coloured placemarks are where journalists are stationed. The area in dark grey shows where street lighting has been turned off.
04.01 The blasts are becoming pretty regular now, with several explosions every 45 minutes of so. Still no word on what the gunman is doing.
03.10 Another two short blasts have been detonated on the scene, according to Le Monde journalist Soren Seelow. He says the police are doing everything they can to ensure the suspect is unable to relax.
02.55 Mohammed Merah was NOT jailed in Afghanistan in 2007, his lawyer and an Afghan provincial officer have told Reuters. Christian Etelin, Merah’s lawyer, said it wasn’t possible as he had been serving a three year sentence in France at the time for robbery with violence. Kandahar prison chief Ghulam Faruq earlier claimed he had been detained in December 2007 over an alleged bomb plot in the region.
02.00 It has been 24 hours now since the operation started, and it has started to rain. Merah is still holed up inside the building while dozens of riot police and journalists continue to monitor his every move.
01.40 While sources at the scene deny a renewed assault on the building, an official claims police have stepped up pressure. Merah had offered to give himself up earlier but changed his mind, the official added.
01.15 Half an hour after the latest blasts and we still don’t know what they mean. As far as we know Merah remains inside the apartment and there haven’t been any reports of injuries to police.
01.00 AFP describes the latest outburst as “two new blasts and brief bursts of gunfire”. Remains unclear whether it’s Merah shooting or if an assault is underway.
00.55 Fabrice Val?ry, a journalist with France3, tweets: “At 1:40 three detonations like a gunshot and a loud explosion at 1:48.”
00.50 We’re hearing reports shots have been fired. Not clear by whom or what they mean. The apparent shots were hollowed by a stronger explosion, possibly a grenade or another breaching device.
00.20 More than 20 hours after the siege began and there’s still no resolution in sight. Officers seem to be on the threshold of the apartment but not prepared to storm it.
00.12 France3 reports that the CRS, France’s riot police, and Toulouse’s local officers have been asked to stay at the first cordon and its only units from RAID that are being allowed near the building.
23.55 An anonymous Interior Ministry officials tells the Associated Press that police blew off the shutters outside one of the apartment’s windows in an attempt to intimidate Merah into surrendering. Shows the lengths they’re prepared to go to take him alive.
23.45 A spokesman for the Interior Ministry has told Reuters:
They were moves to intimidate the gunman who seems to have changed his mind and does not want to surrender. There is no assault.
23.38 Fabrice Val?ry, a journalist for France3, says a police source has told him negotiations have resumed inside the building where Merah is holed up.
23.30 The French Interior Ministry is now saying the blasts were designed to “intimidate” Merah but that a full-blown assault is not underway, Reuters reports.
23.25 Still no gunfire. It seems the operation is either over or police are holding back and not pushing all the way into the flat.
23.12 Suggestions that police may not be forcing their way into the apartment but have breached the outer wall as a show of force intended to make Merah surrender. “Certain sources say [police] smashed a door and are wait for the reaction of the suspect. Not officially confirmed,” says Soren Seelow, the Le Monde journalist.
23.05 AFP is suggesting that the first explosion may have been the police breaching the apartment while the other two may have been stun grenades hurled into the room. It’s been about 20 minutes since the explosions and no reports of gunfire since then.
23.00 No fresh explosions or bangs reported. Not clear whether Merah is attempting to repulse the RAID officers or if he may agree to go peacefully. Police said he earlier that he didn’t appear prepared to die for the cause but rather wanted to be a living symbol.
22.55 This siege began at 3am local time. Just under 21 hours later the police have given up on negotiations and are storming the building.
22.50 The police have turned powerful spotlights onto Merah’s building in an attempt to blind him and keep him from seeing the police operation closing in around him.
22.44 Flashing now on Reuters:
DEPUTY MAYOR OF TOULOUSE CONFIRMS THAT ASSAULT ON SCHOOL SHOOTING SUSPECT’S APARTMENT HAS BEGUN
22.43 The Ministry of the Interior is refusing to confirm or deny anything. France is gripped by the action in Toulouse as is much of the rest of the world.
22.35 Blasts coming from the direction of the building and orange flashes lighting up the sky. “It didn’t sound like gunfire, it was more of boom,” Fiona Govan reports. Impossible to know exactly what’s going on but it sounds like RAID are moving in.
22.30 Barack Obama called Sarkozy earlier to “his personal condolences and those of the American people”, according to a statement from the Elys?e. “France and the United States are more determined than ever to fight together against terrorist barbarism,” it added.
22.20 Soren Seelow warns his fellow journalists not to go to the cafe because because the assault could happen at any minute.
There’s no way of knowing whether Merah, sitting inside of his empty apartment building, can tell there’s been a change of tempo in the streets outside and that France’s elite police appear to be readying to move against him.
21.40 From the scene Fiona Govan reports that armed RAID officers in bulletproof vests and helmets are moving into position near Merah’s building.
21.12 It’s not clear how many weapons Merah has left but police believe that he is still holding a Kalashnikov rifle and an Uzi. This afternoon he threw a pistol out of the window, apparently in exchange for a phone. When police moved in early this morning they came under withering fire and later reportedly blew up a car after discovering it was also packed weapons.
21.00 Mehar apparently attacked the Jewish school because he failed to track down any more soldiers – his prime targets. “He said he had planned to attack a solider on Monday but unable to find a target, he took aim at the Jewish school where a teacher and three children were killed,” said Claude Gu?ant, the interior minister.
20.50 A resident tells Le Monde that he heard a muffled sound from the building around an hour ago and a file of RAID officers are lined against a nearby wall seemingly at the ready. Things are getting increasingly tense.
20.35 French journalist Soren Seelow reports that lights in the neighbourhood have been switched off, plunging the streets into darkness. There’s movement at the foot of the besieged building but he can’t tell what.
The police favour early morning raids (4-5am) but if they sense a window of opportunity they could go earlier.
20.20 Journalists and police on the scene in an increasingly cold Toulouse are digging in for a long night – RAID have a history of patience on operations like this – the unit’s first assignment, a hostage negotiation in 1985, lasted 37 hours. The situation at Neuilly in 1993, where Sarkozy was involved, lasted 46 hours. We’re currently on around 18 hours.
20.08 Merah’s lawyer, Marie-Christine Etelin, who has known the man since he was 17, expressed shock at his apparent fanaticism: “I had never thought that he would fall into such an ideological frenzy. The ideological side was a part [of himself] which he always kept secret from me, and without doubt from others.”
19.55 Video from France 2 purports to show Mohamed Merah tearing around a parking lot in a BMW, shouting and making gun gestures at the camera.
19.30 The siege itself is taking place in a cordoned-off part of north Toulouse with police evacuating a zone several yards away from Merah’s building in every direction. They’ve shut off the electricity and gas to the area so the suspect is sitting in the dark and the cold. We think, but haven’t been able to confirm, that he’s speaking to the police using a phone that was given to him in return for tossing a gun out of the window earlier today.
Mobile coverage on the ground is also very patchy – possibly a sign that the French authorities are jamming the systems to keep him from calling out.
19.10 Fiona Govan files from the scene, where the siege is now in its 17th hour.
Night has fallen and the temperature has dropped. Police sources say they are in for the long haul. “We want him alive, which means being patient”
19.00 The elite police unit tasked with capturing Merah has a long history with Sarkozy, Charles Whitfield writes:
RAID (Research, Assistance, Intervention, Deterrence) is the elite unit of the Police Nationale charged with negotiating Merah’s surrender. RAID’s original expertise was in hostage negotiationsm but in 2002, then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy broadened the remit of RAID to include anti-terrorist operations. According to Le Monde blogger Laurent Borredon, RAID “has the trust of the President” thanks to the unit’s successful resolution of a hostage situation in Neuilly, during Sarkozy’s tenure as mayor of the city.
18.40 Nicolas Sarkozy and his Socialist rival Francois Hollande have both refrained from campaigning while the country reels from the killings and waits for the suspect to be caught. But right-winger Marine Le Pen has unilaterally ended the truce with some harsh rhetoric. This from Reuters:
Le Pen, who is in third place in opinion polls for the April 22 first round, cast aside any semblance of national unity as police laid siege to an apartment in southwest France where a young Muslim gunman suspected of the killings was holed up.
“It is time to wage war on these fundamentalist political religious groups who are killing our children,” Le Pen said on TV news channel i>tele. “The fundamentalist threat has been underestimated.”
Le Pen said Islamist militants had prospered “thanks to a degree of laxity” and that she would seek a debate about restoring the death penalty, abolished 30 years ago in France under the late Socialist President Francois Mitterrand.
18.05 The French authorities seem to be in regular contact with the suspect but it’s not clear exactly how. They may be as close as speaking through a door or else have established phoned contact or some other method.
17.52 Speaking on al Jazeera just now French journalist Franck Guillory says France faces many of the same questions Britain did after the July 7 attacks: how do we deal with a small, radicalised minority of our own citizens who turn to terror?
France is finally facing its 7/7. France thought for a long time that we were prevented from having to address these issues and were not concerned by such a challenge. The difficulty now is to make sure that these murders are not used to bring one community against another.
17.30 We’re now 16 hours into the siege in Toulouse and still the suspected gunman remains holed up. Sky’s Mark Stone, one of the many heroes of the London Riots, offers this update from the scene (shot a little earlier).
17.00 The Afghan link remains very confused. Speaking earlier, Francois Molins claimed earlier that Merah made two trips to Afghanistan and that he was arrested by Afghan troops at a road checkpoint during one of them. Molins said that the 23-year-old was then handed over to the US Army who sent him back to France but provided no details of when that arrest was made.
I’ve put in a call to the Pentagon and we’re waiting to hear back but earlier an Afghan government office in Kandahar denied he was ever arrested:
Twitter: KMIC – Security Forces in Kandahar have never detained a French citizen named Mohammad Merah.
16.55 France24 has posted amateur footage from a neighbour, who lives just a few feet from the address that Merah is holed up in, of the siege.
16.48 Doug Saunders, European Bureau Chief of Canada’s Globe and Mail, sums up what we know so far of Merah in 140 characters:
16.36 French police have found a T-Max scooter allegedly used by Merah in the attacks and are looking for a car that may contain weapons, according to a prosecutor.
A T-Max scooter has been found with the two dark and white helmets used at the different crime scenes, while a Clio is actively sought and everything leads us to believe that it contains a certain number of weapons and ammunition.
16.30 Thanks for reading for the last 10 hours. I’m handing the live coverage over to my colleagues.
16.18 It is understood that Merah’s father is French and his mother is Algerian.
16.15 Mohammed Merah has now said he will give himself up late this evening. Francois Molins, France’s top anti-terror magistrate who is overseeing the probe into the killing of three soldiers, said:
He had said he wanted to give himself up in the afternoon or evening, now it’s in the late evening.
16.06 Francois Molins added that several assaults were attempted on the Toulouse gunman’s flat but officers were fired upon each time. He said two police were wounded by Mohamed Merah, one in the knee and another when a bullet hit his flak jacket.
16.00 Henry Samuel has some more detail on the statement from Prosecutor Francois Molins.
“Mehar told negotiators he envisaged other murders, including one this morning of a soldier outside his home. He had other criminal projects, including two policemen in Toulouse, he expresses no regret except not to have killed any other victims and claims to have brought France to its knees,” said Paris prosecutor Fran?ois Molins.
He said he doesn?t have the “soul of suicide bomber – was happy to kill but not die for cause. He was a loner who was capable of staying locked in at home for long periods and fantasied on ultra-violent internet clips such as beheadings, the prosecutor said.
He helped police trace a Renault Megan rented in March, which contained a revolver, a scattergun, an Uzi, and ammunition. He mentioned a Clio also containing arms and ammunition. He gave address where scooter is parked. Two dark helmets dark and white found. A camera was found in a bag given to friend.
15.54 Prosecutor Francois Molins said the US army previously sent the Toulouse gunman back to France after he was arrested in Afghanistan. Afghan police detained Mohammed Merah and then handed him over to the US army “who put him on the first plane headed to France,” Mr Molins said.
He added that Merah had been to Afghanistan twice and had trained in the militant stronghold of Waziristan.
15.48 News agencies are snapping that Mohammed Merah had planned to kill another soldier and two police officials, according to a French prosecuter. We will bring you more on this as it drops.
15.40 A scooter dealer has explained how he played a key role in leading police to the alleged Toulouse gunman Mohammed Merah. Christian Dellacherie, the owner of the Yam 31 Yamaha dealership, said he had provided the name of the suspected killer. He said that when police showed him surveillance video footage of the attack on a Jewish school that killed three children and a teacher, he noticed the scooter used in the attack had been partially repainted white. He told AFP:
A young man that we knew had come to see us a few days earlier and had asked us for information about the geo-localisation chip in his machine. He mentioned in an off-hand way that he had just taken apart his scooter to repaint it.
I gave them the first and last names of the young man, which we had in our database since he was 14 years old.
He said he “made the connection” while watching the video.
15.28 Henry Samuel, our France correspondent, writes that the revelation that the Toulouse gunman has links with al-Qaeda is likely to influence the French presidential election campaign, and could prove a gift for the far-Right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen.
The latest developments have sparked a tussle over which issues the campaign will now centre ? the need for greater tolerance, understanding and national unity, or anger at perceived laxism towards extremism and a call for a security crackdown that could favour the Right and far-Right.
Marine Le Pen ? who has previously likened Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation of France ? clearly tried to set the tone by claiming the “Islamic fundamentalist threat has been underestimated in our country and political-religious groups are developing due to a certain laxism. Security is a theme that has just signed up to the presidential campaign.”
15.10 Nicolas Sarkozy has told a memorial services for the three soldiers shot by the Toulouse gunman that the killings were a calculated attack on France and the French army. Addressing mourners in Montauban, the French President said:
A French soldier knows death and knows how to look it in the face, but the death our men met was not the death for which they were prepared. It was not death on the field of battle but a terrorist execution. They were killed because they were French soldiers. It was the French army… this republic that the killer wanted to destroy and attack.
He added that the killer had sought to bring France “to its knees” but had failed, during his speech at the barracks of the 17th Parachute Engineering Regiment.
14.56 Nicolas Sarkozy has now arrived at a memorial service in Montauban for the three soldiers killed by the Toulouse gunman. We’ll bring you more on this when we have it.
14.48 The gunman has planned to carry out another attack today, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly told religious leaders in Toulouse. AFP reports:
Sarkozy told Jewish community representatives the suspected Islamist gunman besieged in Toulouse had planned another attack Wednesday. Nicole Yardeni, head of the CRIF Jewish group in the Midi-Pyrenees region, said Sarkozy had told them the shooter “already had a plan to kill again” and that “he planned to kill this morning”.
14.29 Doubt has been cast over claims that the Toulouse gunman was once jailed in Afghanistan on bomb-making charges and escaped during a Taliban attack. Ghulam Farouq, general director of Kandahar prison, claimed this was the case but this has been denied now by Afghan government, as Ben Farmer reports from Kabul.
There is now much confusion in Kandahar over whether the man who escaped in the prison break is the same Mohammed Merah involved in the Toulouse siege. The government media centre in the southern city tweets: “Security Forces in Kandahar have never detained a French citizen named Mohammad Merah.”
14.12 Police tapped Mohammed Merah’s phone from Monday to trace the alleged killer, says Claude Gu?ant, the French interior minister.
13.57 Claude Gu?ant, the French interior minister, has denied that the gunman has been arrested, contradicting earlier reports. He said:
The negotiations continue. They are still under way.
13.43 Explosives have been found in a car belonging to the gunman’s brother, AFP reports.
13.39 The body of Corporal Abel Chennouf, 25 – one of the soldiers shot dead by the Toulouse gunman – has been laid to rest at a Roman Catholic funeral in the Cathedral of Montauban. AFP reports:
The funeral took place amid heavy security in the cathedral of Montauban, the southwestern garrison town where he was shot dead last Thursday along with a soldier colleague.
His coffin was carried out of the church at the end of the ceremony by eight uniformed soldiers as members of his family and his pregnant girlfriend looked on.
Chennouf had served in 2008 in Afghanistan and last year in Senegal.
Private First Class Mohammed Legouade, 23, who was shot dead in the same incident that saw a third soldier badly wounded, was due to be buried on Thursday.
Ibn Ziaten, who was killed in nearby Toulouse on March 11, was to be buried in Morocco.
All three soldiers were French citizens of North African descent.
13.25 French President Nicolas Sarkozy has reportedly arrived near the scene of the siege in Toulouse.
13.20 Looks as if we may see some movement in the Toulouse siege in the next 10 minutes. AP reports that the gunman told police he would surrender by 2.30pm (French time). If he fails to keep to this then police may storm the building.
An official says French police plan to storm an apartment building shortly if a gunman suspected in seven killings and claiming allegiance to al-Qaida doesn’t surrender.
Cedric Delage, regional secretary for a police union, said the suspect has promised to turn himself into police by 2:30 p.m. (1330GMT). Delage says if that doesn’t happen, police will force their way in to try to take him by force.
12.51 Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister, led tributes to shooting victims Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 4, and seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego, as their bodies were laid to rest in Israel today. He said:
Your children are being buried here in the land of Israel, but their memories shall live on and be honoured in the land of France, their homeland as well.
France won’t tolerate terrorism. We are determined to fight every expression of anti-Semitism. Each time a Jew is attacked, cursed or killed on the republic’s territory, it is the entire French nation that is at stake and must react.
12.35 Christian Etelin, a lawyer who has previously represented Merah, described his former client as a “polite and courteous” man. Mr Etelin told the channel BFMTV that Merah was “gentle and courteous – certainly not a fanatic”. He said his client had served a prison sentence for “a common crime” after snatching a bag from someone in a bank.The lawyer, who has defended Merah over various petty crimes since 2004
12.27 AFP reports that the gunman has resumed speaking with police negotiators after he stopped talking several hours ago.
12.24 French police have said they are investigating the alleged phone call Merah made to the news channel France 24. Detectives told AFP they were taking the 11-minute call seriously, but could not confirm it was Merah.
12.05pm: Here’s a bit of a report on the Afghan prison break in June 2008 during which Merah is alleged to have escaped:
Up to 1,000 prisoners, including 400 Taliban militants, were on the run in Kandahar last night after a dramatic Taliban assault on the southern Afghan city’s main prison.
The militants blew the prison gates open with a massive truck bomb and flooded inside, attacking the guards and freeing the inmates. A jubilant Taliban spokesman said the group had deployed 30 motorcycle mounted attackers and two suicide bombers.
11.45am: Claude Gu?ant, the French interior minister, says it seems that Merah was a petty criminal who was radicalised by an extremist group in Toulouse before travelling to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But, Le Monde reports, Gu?ant is insistent that during the time Merah was monitored by the French security services, “nothing ever arose to suggest that he was preparing criminal activity”.
11.30am: Reuters are firming up the picture on Merah’s apparent time in Afghanistan. According to the Kandahar prison director, Merah was detained by security services on 19 December 2007 and was sentenced to three years in jail for planting bombs in Kandahar province, the Taliban’s birthplace.
Le Monde’s reports would seem to suggest that Merah visited Pakistan and Afghanistan ? where he was picked up by Afghan police ? despite having already been detained and imprisoned in the latter country …
11.19am: Details of the suspect’s time in Afghanistan are still sketchy, but Le Monde is reporting that he went twice to Pakistan, once in 2010 and again 2011, to speak with groups of fighters based in the tribal regions near the border with Afghanistan. The paper claims that he trained in the camps there alongside the Pakistani Taliban, foreign jihadis and members of the Haqqani network ? and that he even crossed the border into Afghanistan as part of groups sent to fight Nato troops.
It says he is understood to have stopped off in Waziristan before heading to Kandahar and Zabul in the south of Afghanistan. Interestingly, it also says that he was stopped by police on the outskirts of Kandahar city. Although he was not arrested, his presence in the region as a foreign national was unusual enough for the police to report him to the Afghan intelligence services, who reportedly then passed on the information to western intelligence services.
It’s unclear how Le Monde’s claims tally with those of the director of Kandahar prison.
11.16am: According to the Kandahar prison director, the suspect escaped in 2008 during an insurgent attack on the jail.
11.09am: The director of Kandahar prison in Afghanistan has identified the suspect as Mohammed Merah ? a name that has also been given to AFP by a source close to the Toulouse investigation.
The prison director, Ghulam Faruq, has told Reuters that the man was arrested for planting bombs in Kandahar and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment before he escaped during a mass Taliban jailbreak.
If this turns out to be true, the French governement and security services ? who are understood to have been following the suspect for years ? are going to face some very tough questions.
10.52am: Here’s some quotes from Sarkozy’s address the Elysee presidential palace, via Reuters:
We must be united. We must give in neither to discrimination nor revenge. I have brought together the Jewish and Muslim communities to show that terrorism will not manage to break our nation’s feeling of community.”
10.49am: The police must find out whether the suspect acted “alone, or in a small or larger group”, according to Gu?ant, who is quoted by Le Monde. The interior minister says that the suspect’s mother, two brothers and two sisters have been taken in by the police. One of the brothers, he says, “is also engaged in salafist ideology”. The other members of the family have been taken into “precuationary custody”. The mother is understood to have chosen not to try to get through to her son because she feared “he would remain deaf to her appeals”.
10.38am: Angelique reports that the father of a man living in the block where the suspect is holed up has confirmed that his son and the residents of the other flats have been evacuated and taken to local police station
10.29am: Sarkozy has paid tribute to the “exceptional work” of the police and said he has been “profoundly moved” by recent events. He has also announced he will visit Toulouse before after attending this afternoon’s memorial service for the soldiers who were killed in Montauban.
10.22am: President Sarkozy is reacting to today’s events, saying that France should not give in to discrimination or vengeance after the shootings (Via Reuters).
10.16am: The French interior minister has revealed that the suspect “was followed for several years” by the DCRI, France’s secret service. But he says there was no indication that he was preparing any criminal activity. Le Figaro is now reporting that the man has stopped talking to police.
10.09am: I’ve just spoken to the Guardian’s Phoebe Greenwood, who has been at the funeral of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his two sons, Gabriel and Arieh, and seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego, in Jerusalem.
There was a long list of very emotional speakers from both France and Israel and all have spoken with deep emotion about the shootings in Toulouse. The chief rabbi broke down in tears as he vowed that there would be vengeance for their deaths; that God will avenge their deaths. During his speech there were wails from the crowd.”
One mourner told Phoebe that although the school was “a very safe place”, the murders would make many Jews worried about security in Europe consider moving to Israel. She said:
Many of the people who are thinking about moving to Israel now certainly will.”
9.37am: Le Figaro reports that the vehicle destroyed by the police was a van belonging to the suspect and that a small machine gun and other weapons were found inside it.
9.25am: Although eyes are fixed on events in Toulouse, today has already seen the burial ? in Israel ? of the rabbi and three children shot dead in Monday’s attack. One Israeli official has described the attack as the act of “wild animals made crazy by their hatred”. Reuters has this:
The victims’ bodies were wrapped in burial shrouds in accordance with orthodox tradition after being flown overnight from France. The funeral took place in a hill-top cemetery at the entrance to Jerusalem.
“The Jewish people face wild and insatiable animals, wild animals made crazy by their hatred,” the speaker of parliament, Reuben Rivlin, said in a eulogy at the burial site.
The victims were 30-year-old Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his children Gabriel, 4, and Arieh, 5, and the daughter of the school’s principal, seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego.
“The entire house of Israel weeps over these murders,” Rivlin said.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who flew to Israel to attend the funeral, said at an earlier meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres that he had come to express “the solidarity of the French people with the Israeli nation” in its time of sorrow. He added:
“The blood of both our peoples was spilled in this murder.”
9.21am: Angelique has clarified that the “communication device” for which the suspect gave up his pistol was a mobile phone. The BBC, meanwhile, are reporting that buses have been brought in to evacuate residents from the siege area and that a blast heard a little while ago was down to the police using a controlled explosion to move a car.
9.11am: In case it had escaped anyone’s attention that the French presidential elections are just weeks away, the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen has told French TV that the shootings are the result of France’s mistaken policy in Afghanistan and said France should wage war against “these fundamentalist political and religious groups that are killing our children”. (Via Reuters)
8.55am: A source close to the investigation has told AFP that the suspect’s name is Mohammed Merah and he is a French national of Algerian origin. (via BBC)
8.45am: Here’s a Googlemap showing the house where the siege is under way and also the Jewish school where three children and a rabbi were murdered on Monday.Click on the map to expand.
8.40am: Sky News’ Mark Stone has posted this panoramic picture of the scene in Toulouse showing there’s a media presence to match the police’s.
8.30am: The BBC is reporting that scooters appear to have played a pivotal role in finding the suspect. He is believed to have been exchanged emails with one of the soldiers shot dead in last week’s attacks and arranged a meeting at which the soldier was killed. He is also reported to have taken a scooter – the vehicle used in the murders – to be resprayed at a Toulouse garage following the first attacks.
8.25am: Reuters reports that the 24-year-old suspect threw his pistol from the window of the house in exchange for a “communication device”. But according to Gu?ant, he still has an arsenal including an Uzi sub-machine gun and a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
“He said ? he will turn himself in this afternoon,” Gueant told BFM television, adding that authorities were determined to take the suspect alive so he could stand trial.
8.18am: Claude Gu?ant, the French interior minister, says the suspect has announced that he will turn himself in sometime in afternoon. But it also appears that the man, who threw a pistol out of the window a little while ago, has other weapons around him.
8.15am: According to Le Monde, officers from the French police’s counter terrorism unit, Raid (which stands for Recherche, Assistance, Intervention, Dissuasion – or Research, Assistance, Intervention, Deterrence) are conducting today’s operation.
8.10am: According to the BBC, who are quoting the French interior minister, Claude Gu?ant, the suspect is negotiating with police and has thrown a Colt 45 pistol out of the window (police have previously identified a .45 calibre pistol as a weapon used in all three attacks).
7.57am: As Reuters points out, immigration and Islam have been major themes of the election campaign as Sarkozy tries to woo supporters of the far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Analysts say the shootings could transform the election debate and possibly tone down the populist rhetoric.
Jean Marc, a 56-year-old restaurant owner in the city who declined to give his last name, said he believed the crisis would benefit the far right or Sarkozy in the election.
“The Socialists don’t talk about this stuff and it shows they don’t know what they are doing. [The police] need to get this guy.”
7.54am: A police source has told Reuters that officers could launch an assault if the standoff lasts for some time, adding:
“There are more and more people around, so this creates a dangerous situation.”
7.51am: The wires are also reporting that a package bomb has exploded at the Indonesian Embassy in Paris today, causing minor damage but no injuries.
A Paris police official said an employee at the embassy discovered a suspicious package and stepped back in time before exploded. There was minor damage to a window but no injuries, the official said.
Indonesia’s foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, says it is too early to say whether there is any link between the mail bomb and the attack on the Jewish school in Toulouse. (Via AP)
7.48am: Here’s some background from AP:
For years the main terrorist threat that French authorities have been concerned about has been al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which grew from an extremist group in the former French colony of Algeria.
French officials have been worried that the group may try to conduct an action in France ahead of presidential elections in April and May, a counterterrorism official told the Associated Press this week. So far, it has never succeeded in reaching across the Mediterranean Sea to strike in Europe.
While the Toulouse raid was under way, the bodies of the four victims of the school shooting arrived in Israel for burial. The bodies of the rabbi, two of his children and a daughter of the school’s principal were accompanied to Israel by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. They landed early today.
7.43am: The scale of the police response is, understandably, huge. Angelique has spoken to a police trade union rep on the ground, who’s told her that at least 300 police are involved in the operation
7.41am: Angelique adds:
In a neighbouring street to the stand off, Marc Stulman, local general secretary of the Jewish umbrella group, the Crif, said he had been briefed by the interior minister 20 mins ago.
He said the suspect is still holed up in his home and that there had been an exchange of gunfire this morning. He added there was “immense relief” in Toulouse this morning that police had located the suspect:
“People can go to school this morning as normal. And we hope tomorrow will be a better day.”
7.37am: The Guardian’s Paris correspondent, Angelique Chrisafis has just sent this dispatch from Toulouse:
On the leafy neighbouring streets, lined with smart houses with front gardens, residents were in shock. One local said he had spoken by phone to the couple who lived in the flat directly opposite the suspect. He said:
They don’t know what’s going on, they are in their bedroom hiding under their bed, terrified. Just after 3am they heard a commotion, the man shouted down to the police ‘I have seen you!’ and began firing a gun. They don’t know the man well, they said they just used to pass him on the stairwell.”
7.34am: People are waking up to the news that a man has been arrested over the Toulouse shootings while another is engaged in an armed stand-off with police. Three officers were injured in a shoot-out during the swoop on a house in Toulouse on Wednesday morning, police said.
Reports quoted police as saying the man barricaded inside the house had told them he wanted to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children. He was described as a French national with an Algerian mother. The suspect already arrested is said to be his brother.
Heavily armed police in bullet-proof vests and helmets cordoned off the residential area where the raid was taking place. Witnesses at the scene heard several shots at about 3.40am local time.