The Frenchman suspected of a spate of shootings in the Toulouse area planned more killings, prosecutors have said.
Anti-terror chief Francois Molins said the suspect, named as Mohammed Merah, 23, of Algerian descent, intended to kill a soldier and two police officers.
Merah, who says he was trained by al-Qaeda, is suspected of murdering three soldiers and four Jewish people.
Molins told reporters that Merah said he had acted alone, expressed no regrets, and boasted about having brought “France to its knees.”
Police have surrounded his apartment and are trying to persuade him to surrender. He is said to be heavily armed.
Earlier reports said he had been captured, but officials later rebuffed the claims.
The suspect has said he belonged to al-Qaeda and acted to “avenge Palestinian children”.
He had apparently spent time in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he was jailed for three years for planting bombs.
The prison director in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, Gulam Farooq, told the BBC that Merah was arrested in 2007, but escaped in a Taliban-led break-out in 2008.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has attended a memorial at a military base in nearby Montauban for the three murdered soldiers.
Sarkozy said that although the paratroopers would have been prepared to die in battle, their death was “a terrorist execution.”
Lisa Mullins talks with Chris Bockman who reports for the BBC from France (Broadcast at 4pm EDT).
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The following was recorded at 4 P.M. Eastern Time.
Lisa Mullins: I’m Lisa Mullins and this is The World. Authorities in France say they have found the suspect in the killings around Toulouse but they have not arrested him yet. The man is a young, French citizen of Algerian decent. He is still hold up in his apartment in Toulouse. Hundreds of police officers have surrounded the building, and they’re trying to get Mohammed Merah to surrender. Merah is a suspect in the shooting deaths of four people at a Jewish school two days ago and the deaths of three French soldiers before that. With a standoff underway today, President Sarkozy spoke at a memorial service for the soldiers. [Sarkozy: speaking French]. Sarkozy said that the soldiers were killed in a terrorist execution meant to bring the French Republic to it’s knees, but he vowed that terrorism will not fracture national unity in France. Chris Bockman is reporting for the BBC from the standoff in Toulouse, he says that the suspect was traced through an email address he used to get in touch with one of his victims. Then, police investigators scoured the internet to trace his physical location.
Chris Bockman: They went through seven-hundred personal profiles, seven-hundred telephone records, seven-hundred internet addresses, and that’s how they basically narrowed it down. And then on the Tuesday night, they really had the right person they thought, and the decision was made that he was going to act again very soon. Something which he’s admitted in his conversations today with mediators, with negotiators, that he was going to go out and kill another soldier and try and kill two policeman today. So the order was given last night to get him, hence they arrested his mother, they arrested his brother. They’re all apparently part of a group, which while the other can’t be accused of actually being killers, are part of an Islamic group, or at least fundamentalist fanatics.
Mullins: Okay, so they say, and he is calling himself an al-Qaeda operative. The watch list, though, that the police had would seem to have lead to him more quickly. Why has it taken so long for police to find him and narrow the names down to this one particular suspect?
Bockman: I think that part of the story will unfold in the days and weeks ahead. How does someone who is on a watch list, who is known to have the profile of someone who could possibly be very, very dangerous. They said themselves, he’s done armed robberies, he liked to watch decapitation videos of US citizens amongst them and Europeans, who have actually had brutal endings like this at the hands of Islamic fanatics. And the investigating, anti-terrorist judge said to me that he’s gone from being a delinquent who went around armed robbery and violent, to being a political fanatic, and ending up basically as a killer.
Mullins: Is there any evidence though, Chris, that this suspect does have an affiliation with a dangerous group, al-Qaeda or any other group? Is there any evidence that he’s part of a wider terrorist campaign or is a solo actor?
Bockman: It’s difficult to say actually, at this point. And the judges are being very cautious on that. He says he’s definitely has a link to al-Qaeda, that he’s been to Pakistan, he’s spent several spells in Afghanistan. But there’s no guarantee about that. He could be just a lone gunman who became a fanatic and wanted to get revenge on western society because he felt didn’t fit in here in France. He’s French-born, but of Algerian decent and it seems like he has a long criminal record.
Mullins: As you say, this is all unfolding, not too far from where you are right now. Can you describe what it’s like to be there, and also the conversations that are going on sporadically between the suspect and police?
Bockman: Yeah, they go on and off. I mean, basically he said, a few hours ago now, that after lunch he was prepared to hand himself in. That hasn’t happened. He said he that doesn’t mind killing but he has no intention of committing suicide himself. So, that’s the situation. After the initial raid, which of course left three police officers injured, they found explosives in his car, which they had to blow up, and they believe he could have many other weapons. They just don’t know at this point. So, basically, it’s just a waiting game now. They’re really keen, from what I can understand from the authorities here, they’re really keen to get him alive. They could easily shoot their way in now and kill him, there’s no question about that. They have three-hundred people, he can’t go anywhere. But they want to get him alive, that seems to the clear, clear objective everyone’s pointing out here.
Mullins: What’s this man saying was his motivation?
Bockman: He has a grudge against Western civilization and he says that he is to revenge the sufferings of the Palestinians, that’s his main argument he’s using. And he saw soldiers, he saw the French policeman, he saw the school for people of Jewish faith as part of that kind of establishment that he wants to get revenge against. But the negotiator says that his story, it seems to be changing by the hour.
Mullins: Okay, Chris Bockman, thank you.
Bockman: Thank you.
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