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France Awaits Arrest of Suspected Gunman

March 21, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: Hour after hour, French police waited today for an accused gunman to surrender. He was wanted in a series of fatal shootings, including Monday’s attack on a Jewish school.

The shootings took place in and around the city of Toulouse, where today’s standoff played out.

We begin our coverage with a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: At around 3:00 a.m., police raided a block of flats believed to be home to two brothers and France’s most wanted man.

Three policemen were injured by gunfire as they tried to storming the building. And an unidentified woman was taken away by ambulance. One man quickly gave himself up. But his brother refused to give in. He was described as a French national with an Algerian mother who had been to Afghanistan and Pakistan and was claiming to be a member of al-Qaida.

The suspect was later identified as Mohamed Merah, in his early 20s, whom police said was preparing to kill again. He had told them he wanted to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and the French army’s involvement in Afghanistan.

FRANCOIS MOLINS, chief prosecutor, Paris (through translator): He said he has no regrets, besides not having had time to make more victims. And he’s proud to have brought France to her knees.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Neighbors said they were stunned by the siege unfolding on their doorstep in a quiet residential neighborhood just two miles from the Jewish school where four were gunned down on Monday.

This man told me the suspect lived in the same block as his son and had helped him move in a new sofa. “Now my son is stuck inside with special forces refusing to let him out,” he said.

Another neighbor said Merah had been seen having fun in a club just three weeks ago. “Now I’m hearing he’s al-Qaida” he said. “Our reputation as Muslims will suffer.”

At the same time, the funerals of those killed on Monday were taking place in Israel, France by now convinced it had found the man responsible for this anti-Semitic outrage. But the first victim was a paratrooper, one of three shot dead last week. And this afternoon, all three were buried with full military honors. They were from Muslim or ethnic minority backgrounds.

And with Muslims among the dead, President Sarkozy has warned his country not to give in to revenge. All France’s main political leaders were there today in what is an election season, with many now asking why Mr. Merah, who’d been known to the authorities for years, wasn’t identified earlier?

CLAUDE GUEANT, French interior minister (through translator): This man was followed for several years by the French intelligence and its agents in Toulouse. During this period, nothing suspicions emerged.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Tonight, police said they have found the scooter Mr. Merah used to carry out his alleged crimes. And the man quoted as saying he was trying to bring France to its knees has himself been cornered.