herald

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Face of french school killer revealed as siege continues

STAND-OFF: Killer wants to 'die with guns in hand' as he's unmasked in video

The serial killer holed up in a French apartment said he wanted to "die with weapons in his hands" today as the stand-off entered a second day.

Police said they were still hoping to take the gunman alive, though they have not had contact with him since last night.

There were suspicions that Mohamed Merah may have already committed suicide.

As police continued to lay siege to his Toulouse apartment, pictures emerged on the internet of Merah (24).

He was seen in a YouTube video doing 'donuts' in a sporty BMW car and smiling broadly for the camera. He has short-cropped hair and is clean shaven in the new pictures.



BLASTS

Meanwhile, elite police squads set off sporadic blasts throughout the night and into the morning -- some that blew off the apartment's shutters -- in what officials described as a tactic aimed to pressure the Frenchman to give up.

Two or three gunshots were heard from the area of the apartment building overnight. The interior minister said the source of gunshots was unclear.

Authorities say Merah has boasted about carrying out the shootings of three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi, and three French paratroopers in three separate incidents over the last two weeks.

They are believed to be the first incidents of killings inspired by Islamic radical motives in France in more than a decade.

"We hope that he is still alive," Interior Minister Claude Gueant said, stressing that authorities wanted to capture him alive. He said the gunman earlier told negotiators that he wanted to "die with weapons in his hands."

Mr Gueant said "it's rather strange that he never reacted" to the detonations overnight.

Police were using their advantages -- numbers, firepower and psychological pressure - in hopes of wearing down Merah, who has had no water, electricity, gas or most likely sleep since the early hours of yesterday.

Holed up alone in an otherwise evacuated apartment building, Merah clung to his few remaining assets like a small arsenal and authorities' hopes of taking him alive.

He appeared to toy with police negotiators -- first saying he would surrender in the afternoon, then under the cover of darkness, then reneging on those pledges altogether, officials said.

Authorities said the shooter, who is of Algerian descent, had been to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he claimed to have received training from al-Qai'da.

They said he told negotiators he killed a rabbi and three young children at a Jewish school on Monday and three French paratroopers last week to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and to protest the French army's role in Afghanistan, as well as a government ban last year on face-covering Islamic veils.

"He has no regrets, except not having more time to kill more people and he boasts that he has brought France to its knees," said prosecutor Francois Molins.

French authorities -- like others across Europe -- have long been concerned about "lone-wolf" attacks by young, internet-savvy militants who find radical beliefs online, since they are harder to find and track.

Merah espoused a radical brand of Islam and had been to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region twice and to the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan for training, Mr Molins said.

He said the suspect had plans to kill another soldier -- prompting the police raid at around 3am yesterday. After it erupted into a firefight, wounding two police, a standoff ensued with on-and-off negotiations.

Those slain at the Jewish school, all of French-Israeli nationality, were buried in Israel yesterday as relatives sobbed inconsolably. The bodies of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arieh (5), and Gabriel (3), and eight-year-old Myriam Monsonego had been flown there earlier in the day.

hnews@herald.ie

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