France shooting suspect found, claims link to Al-Qaeda

France shooting suspect found, claims link to Al-Qaeda

(AP) France shooting suspect holed up in building
By JOHANNA DECORSE
Associated Press
TOULOUSE, France
France’s interior minister says a gunman suspected in a wave of killings has stopped talking to police, and that authorities have been monitoring him for years.

Claude Gueant was speaking Wednesday in the southern city of Toulouse, where a police raid is under way targeting the gunman. He is suspected in three shootings that killed three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers in recent days.

The man has thrown his handgun out a window but has other weapons on him, including an AK-47 assault rifle, and has used them in volleys with police surrounding the building in this southwestern city, Gueant said.

A judicial official said that the suspect’s mother, his brother and a companion of the brother were detained for questioning. The official was not authorized to speak publicly.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

TOULOUSE, France (AP) _ A predawn police raid on a home in Toulouse erupted into a firefight Wednesday with a gunman who claims connections to al-Qaida and is suspected of killing three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers.

The man has thrown his handgun out a window but has other weapons on him, including an AK-47 assault rifle, and has used them in volleys with police surrounding the building in this southwestern city, French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said.

Three policemen have been wounded in the operation, which is still ongoing, Gueant said. The suspect’s brother has been arrested.

Gueant said the suspect is talking to a police negotiator and says he’ll surrender in the afternoon. The minister says police want to take him alive.

The suspect is 24 years old, of French nationality and says “he belongs to al-Qaida,” Gueant told reporters. He said the suspect “wants to take revenge for Palestinian children” killed in the Middle East, and is angry at the French military for its operations abroad.

The man was known to authorities for having spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The shooting suspect is “talking a lot, claiming his jihadist convictions” and calling himself a “mujahedeen,” Gueant said.

“He said he wants to avenge the deaths of Palestinians,” the minister said, adding that he is “less explicit” about killing French paratroopers.

Authorities have been conducting a massive manhunt across a swath of southern France after seven people were killed in three attacks over the past several days, and France’s terror alert level was raised to its highest level ever in the region.

A French paratrooper was killed in Toulouse on March 11, two other paratroopers were killed and one injured on Thursday in the nearby town of Montauban, and three children and a rabbi were killed in a shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday.

The suspect in the attacks drove a powerful motorcycle, and the same weapon, a Colt 45, was used in all three shootings. Another less powerful weapon also was used in the attack on the Jewish school.

Police arrived overnight Wednesday to raid the house in Toulouse, near the site of the first killing.

“When they arrived … the wanted individual shot at the door,” Gueant said.

One officer was injured in the knee and another officer was lightly injured in ensuing exchanges of fire, Gueant said.

Officers brought the suspect’s mother to the scene and tried to get her to help negotiate, but she refused, saying “she had little influence on him,” Gueant said.

For years the main terrorist threat that French authorities have been concerned about has been al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which grew from an extremist group in the former French colony of Algeria.

French officials have been worried that the group may try to conduct an action in France ahead of presidential elections in April and May, a counterterrorism official told The Associated Press this week. So far, it has never succeeded in reaching across the Mediterranean Sea to strike in Europe.

While the Toulouse raid was under way, the bodies of the four victims of the school shooting arrived in Israel for burial. The three children and a rabbi will be buried in a Jerusalem cemetery later Wednesday.

They were gunned down on Monday in the deadliest school shooting France has ever known and the bloodiest attack on Jewish targets in decades.

The bodies of the rabbi, two of his children and a daughter of the school’s principal were accompanied to Israel by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. They landed early Wednesday.

___

Jamey Keaten contributed to this report.

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