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Toulouse Standoff Leaves Suspect Dead After Shootout
Originally published on Thu March 22, 2012 7:20 pm
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. A lone gunman who said he wanted to bring France to its knees went down shooting in the southern city of Toulouse today. His death brought a dramatic end to a 32-hour standoff with French police. Twenty-three-year-old Mohamed Merah had admitted to killing seven people in the last two weeks, including three children and a teacher at a Jewish school; and three soldiers of North African origin. Now, U.S. law-enforcement officials confirm that Merah was on both a U.S. watch list and a no-fly list.
For France, a national ordeal is over. But as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, questions of how it could have happened in the first place have just begun.
(SOUNDBITE OF FRENCH NEWS BROADCAST)
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Reporters were live at the scene this morning when police stormed the apartment where Mohamed Merah was holed up. Merah had been incommunicado since the night before, leaving many to believe he committed suicide. But when SWAT teams forced the door and went in, they discovered Merah was far from finished. French Interior Minister Claude Gueant, speaking through a translator, describes the raid that injured two policemen.
CLAUDE GUEANT: (Through translator) The killer came out from the bathroom, blazing away with his submachine gun. At the end, Mohamed Merah jumped out the window with a gun in his hand, and still shooting. He was found dead on the ground.
BEARDSLEY: Gueant says Merah died from a bullet in the head. In his apartment, police found Molotov cocktails, guns, and a bin full of ammunition. Before he died, Merah told police where to find the motorcycle he used in his crimes, and a car. Inside the vehicle, police found a camera. As suspected, Merah had filmed every detail of his massacres. To one of the soldiers he shot, he said, you kill my brothers, so now I'm killing you.
France is agonizing over how a young man who was born and grew up in Toulouse could turn on his fellow citizens so ruthlessly. Merah was raised with his three brothers and sister by a single mother. His parents came to France from Algeria decades ago. Mostly what you hear from people in Toulouse is that Merah was friendly and even courteous. Around the age of 15, Merah begin to rack up a petty crime record. At 19 and 21, he briefly spent time behind bars, where he allegedly was introduced to extremist ideologies.
In 2010 and '11, Merah made trips to training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was put under surveillance by the French Secret Service upon his return. As France grapples with the fallout from the drama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told his countrymen they must rise above their indignation and anger, to remain united.
PRESIDENT NICOLAS SARKOZY: (Through translator) Our fellow Muslim citizens have nothing to do with the insane motivations of this terrorist. Let no one confuse this issue. Before killing Jewish students, he shot Muslim soldiers at point-blank range.
BEARDSLEY: But others are already saying, I told you so. Marine Le Pen is the far-right National Front Party candidate. She is in third place in presidential polls.
MARINE LE PEN: (Through translator) For the last 10 years, I've been warning of the rise of radical Islam in our country. For 10 years, I've been saying the connections between Islam and crime are rising, and that some entire neighborhoods are falling into the hands of radical Islamists. And I repeat that we are underestimating this danger.
BEARDSLEY: Sarkozy wasted no time in announcing new measures to fight against the rise of future Mohamed Merahs. He said those who regularly access Internet sites that preach hatred will face penal action, as will those who go abroad for indoctrination in terror ideology. And, said Sarkozy: There will be a review of French prisons because we cannot allow them to become indoctrination grounds for extremists.
Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.