French police close in on suspect in Toulouse school killings

Elite French counter-terrorism police were closing in Wednesday to arrest a suspect in the killing this week of three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in the southwestern city of Toulouse, France.

The suspect in the attacks was identified as a 23-year-old Frenchman from Toulouse of Algerian descent named Mohammed Merah. He has reportedly traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan, served jail time in France from 2007-2009 for non-terrorism related offenses, and allegedly has proclaimed ties to al-Qaida. Police earlier Wednesday arrested the man's brother, whose computer IP address was reportedly used to answer an ad for a motorbike for sale by one of three French soldiers shot last week.

The suspect's mother has been brought to the scene to try to assist police in persuading her son to surrender. France's Interior Minister Claude Guéant also arrived on the scene, outside a residential building in the northern Toulouse neighborhood of Croix-Daurade.

Mareh has barricaded himself in the building, which the police were surrounding after a thirteen-hour standoff, as French officials addressed the media nearby.

Earlier Wednesday, two French police officers were wounded in a shoot out with the suspect, MSNBC reported. The operation to try to take Mareh into custody has been broadcast live on French television all day.

French news channel BFM TV reported that Merah "was linked to Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride), an Islamist group banned last month in France," the BBC reported. "From a family of five children, the suspect is a mechanic by trade, according to Le Point."

A man claiming to be the gunman called French broadcaster France 24 Wednesday saying he had filmed the killings and would post the videos online, the broadcaster said.

The same .45 caliber gun has reportedly been used in three separate shooting incidents over the past nine days, resulting in seven deaths in the Toulouse area. Those killed include four people at the Jewish school this week, as well as three French troops of North African and Caribbean descent, who were killed in two separate incidents last week. The victims were shot in the head by a gunman riding a black Yamaha scooter, reports said.

The chief suspect is said to have cited the death of Palestinian children as the reason for the attacks, and to have targeted the French troops of North African descent (like himself) because he considered them traitors. French police allegedly tracked him based on recent emails inquiring about the sale of the motorbike.

Killed in the attacks on Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse Monday were Jonathan Sandler, a rabbi and teacher at the school, his two sons, Gabriel and Arieh, ages 3 and 6, and Miriam Monsonego, the 7-year-old daughter of the school principal. A fifth person, a 17-year-old boy, was also wounded in the attack.

Those killed at the Toulouse Jewish school, who had dual French-Israeli nationality, were buried in Israel Wednesday. Their bodies were flown to Israel from France Wednesday, accompanied by their relatives and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.

The French embassy in Washington will give those who wish to sign a book of condolences over the Toulouse tragedy an opportunity to do so on Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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