PARIS — An Islamic extremist who boasted of killing seven people to strike back at France died after being shot in the head by police as he jumped out of his apartment after a fierce gunfight with police, authorities said.
His dramatic death ended a more than 32-hour standoff with an elite police squad trying to capture him alive. The suspect, 23-year-old Mohamed Merah, was wanted in the deaths of three paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi — all killed since March 11 in what he reportedly told police was an attempt to “bring France to its knees.”
Prosecutor Francois Molins said Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent who claimed links to al-Qaida, burst out of his bathroom when police entered his apartment Thursday morning, wildly firing his handgun about 30 times and jumping out an apartment window.
Merah continued to fire “until he was hit by a retaliatory shot from the RAID (elite police unit), which felled him with a bullet to the head,” Molins said.
Merah had filmed all three killings, and claimed to have posted them online. Police have viewed the videos.
The prosecutor said the gunman, in his first killing of a paratrooper March 11, is heard on the video saying “You kill my brothers; I kill you.”
When killing two other paratroopers four days later in the nearby town of Montauban, he cried out “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic.
A volley of gunfire resounded Thursday throughout the neighborhood in the southwestern city of Toulouse as police stormed the apartment, and two police officers were wounded in the firefight.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said an investigation was under way to see if the suspect in a series of radical Islam-inspired killings had any accomplices.
Sarkozy also said anyone who regularly visits “websites which support terrorism or call for hate or violence will be punished by the law.” He promised a crackdown on anyone who goes abroad “for the purposes of indoctrination in terrorist ideology.”
The seven slayings are believed to be the first killings inspired by Islamic radical motives in France since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Authorities said Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent, espoused a radical form of Islam and had been to Afghanistan and the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan, where he claimed to have received training from al-Qaida.