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News Wrap: French Shootings Suspect Killed in Raid After Standoff

March 22, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: A standoff in France ended in a barrage of bullets today after 32 hours. Police shot dead a gunman who claimed al-Qaida ties, and who boasted of killing seven people, including three paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi.

We have a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: At 11:30 this morning, a firefight broke out in the Rue Sergent Vigne, so ferocious that it lasted almost five minutes, as security forces stormed the apartment where Mohamed Merah had been holed up for more than 32 hours.

A room-to-room search with video cameras had revealed nothing. But suddenly Merah burst out of the bathroom wearing a bulletproof vest and fired thirty bullets from his Colt 45 pistol. He injured two policemen. A stretcher was readied. Merah had been shot in the head by a marksman.

CLAUDE GUEANT, French interior minister (through translator): The killer left the bathroom with extreme violence, with many bursts of gunfire. Then, at the end, Mohamed Merah jumped from a window with a weapon in his hand and continued to shoot. He was found dead on the ground.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: The police had hoped to end this peacefully, to bring Mr. Merah to justice, to see if he had any accomplices. But, in the end, he decided he would not go quietly. The police ran out of patience and Mr. Merah went down in a hail of gunfire.

This was Merah filmed by a friend just 18 months ago. “Watch this. Awesome,” he says, a smiling young man performing car stunts, the same man who confessed to police yesterday that he was only sorry he hadn’t had the chance to kill more than the seven people he had shot so far.

This afternoon, we found the housing estate where Merah grew up now flooded with police. The French authorities are still investigating whether the killer acted alone or was part of a terrorist cell, while President Sarkozy has announced a crackdown on the use of jihadist websites.

This afternoon, Mohamed Merah’s body was taken away for forensic examination as this stunned nation asked itself how one of its own citizens could turn from petty crime to jihad and commit France’s worst act of terrorism in well over a decade.

HARI SREENIVASAN: One of the few established democracies in Africa has fallen in a military coup. Drunken soldiers looted the presidential palace in Mali today, just a month before President Amadou Toumani Toure was due to leave office. His whereabouts were unknown. The coup began yesterday at a military camp near Bamako, the capital.

Rioting then spread to the northern town of Gao. By dawn today, a group of soldiers appeared on state television saying they were in control. They insisted they would hand over power to an elected government once national unity is established.

In Yemen, an al-Qaida offshoot claimed it killed an American teacher on Sunday. Joel Shrum was gunned down in the central city of Taiz, where he lived with his wife and two sons and taught English. An al-Qaida posting on a militant website accused Shrum of trying to spread Christianity. But hundreds of young Yemenis marched in Taiz on Tuesday, demanding the killers be caught and punished.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted today to abolish a Medicare cost-control board that’s part of the president’s health care law. The board’s members have not yet been appointed, but its mission is to rein in Medicare spending by forcing cuts on service providers. The Republican majority in the House argued that that’s akin to rationing care. The vote was along party lines.

Pipeline politics dominated President Obama’s day. In Cushing, Okla., he announced plans to expedite approval of a line transporting oil from Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There’s a bottleneck right here because we can’t get enough of the oil to our refineries fast enough. And if we could, then we would be able to increase our oil supplies at a time when they’re needed as much as possible.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The project is the southern portion of the larger Keystone XL pipeline that the president delayed in January. Republican leaders said today’s announcement won’t make up for that decision.

Rising demand for another critical resource, water, could lead to wars in some regions of the world. U.S. intelligence agencies reached that conclusion in a report issued today. They found the use of water as a weapon or a tool of terror will become more likely after 2022. The intelligence estimate said nations in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa would be at greatest risk.

Wall Street wobbled today over concerns that growth in China and Europe is slowing down. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 78 points to close at 13,046. The Nasdaq fell 12 points to close at 3,063.

The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office ruled today that singer Whitney Houston’s death was accidental drowning. The report said heart disease and chronic cocaine use also contributed to her death. Houston was found submerged in the bathtub of a Beverly Hills hotel on Feb. 12.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.