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Qaida-linked Islamist wanted to ´avenge Palestinian children´ (ISRAEL HAYOM) Boaz Bismuth, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff 03/21/12)Source: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=3603 Israel Hayom Israel Hayom Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
300 French police corner Mohammed Merah, a 24-year-old Frenchman of Algerian origin, in Toulouse apartment • “The Jews have killed our brothers and sisters in Palestine,” Merah said, adding that he had uploaded a video of the attack onto the Internet.

French police launched a pre-dawn raid on a house in Toulouse early Wednesday morning, cornering a man suspected of killing three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three French paratroopers in three attacks that took place in the southwestern French city and the nearby town of Montauban over the last two weeks.

Gunfire erupted as members of the RAID police special forces team tried to storm an apartment in a residential district of Toulouse in the early morning operation, and at least two officers were wounded, French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said.

Police named the suspect as Mohammed Merah, a 24-year-old Frenchman of Algerian origin, who they said claims to be a member of al-Qaida.

“He claims to be a mujahideen [holy warrior] and to belong to al- Qaida,” Gueant told journalists in Toulouse, adding that the suspect had ties to “people involved in jihadism and Salafism.”

Gueant said the man targeted in the raid had visited Afghanistan and Pakistan, and had shot dead the four to avenge Palestinian children killed in the conflict with Israel and due to France’s military involvement abroad.

“’The Jews have killed our brothers and sisters in Palestine,” the killer reportedly said, adding that he had uploaded a video of the attack onto the Internet.

Gueant said the suspect was thought to be armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a mini-Uzi 9mm machine gun and other handguns, but had thrown a .45 pistol used in seven murders in the previous nine days from a window.

“He is currently in a dialogue with a police official and he says — I do not know if he is telling the truth — that he will hand himself in later in the day,” the minister said, in an interview with the BFM-TV news network. As of 12:30 p.m. (Israel time), however, news reports said the suspect had cut off contact with police negotiators. Authorities were determined to take the suspect alive so he could stand trial.

French authorities said national intelligence had been monitoring Merah for years. He had also been previously arrested on a matter of common law in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold, police said, according to French news agency AFP.

Merah, who was holed up in the Toulouse house during the hours-long standoff, had been speaking with a police negotiator over the course of Wednesday morning before cutting off contact.

Gueant did not say how police had tracked the man down, but said they were talking to his brother at a separate location in connection to the killings. His mother had also been brought to the scene to help negotiate with him.

Heavily armed police in bullet-proof vests and helmets cordoned off the area where the raid was taking place, in a suburb about three kilometers from the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school where Monday’s shooting attack took place. Residents of the besieged building were being evacuated.

Gueant said French President Nicolas Sarkozy had been informed of the raid, which began at 3 a.m. in Toulouse. Sarkozy, campaigning for re- election in a presidential poll in five weeks time, has blamed racism for Monday’s school attack. His handling of the crisis could be a decisive factor in determining the vote.

As events unfolded in Toulouse, Sarkozy said Wednesday that “terrorism will never succeed in fracturing our nation.”

Far-Right candidate and Sarkozy challenger Marine Le Pen decried the attacks as the result of France’s mistaken policy in Afghanistan and said France should wage war against fundamentalist political and religious groups.

“The risk of fundamentalism has been underestimated in our country. Certain political and religious groups are developing in the face of a certain laxness,” she told the i-Tele news channel, questioning the decision to deploy in Afghanistan.

“We must now wage this war against these fundamentalist political and religious groups that are killing our children, that are killing our Christian children, our Christian young men, young Muslim men and Jewish children.”

Paris Grand Mosque Rector Dalil Boubakeur urged France not to stigmatize its Muslims in the wake of the shootings, saying, according to AFP, that “99.9 per cent” of French Muslims were law- abiding citizens and the killings were the work of a tiny “fringe.”

French security forces expanded their hunt for the attacker on Tuesday, using hundreds of officers in their effort, as officials cleared three neo-Nazi soldiers suspected in the case. The three had been discharged from their army unit in 2008 after a picture of them was discovered posing with a Nazi flag and raising their hands in a Nazi salute.

Police released footage from a security camera outside the Jewish school on Tuesday, showing a man on a motorcycle wearing a white helmet, while Gueant said on Tuesday that the murderer arrived at the school with a camera attached to his chest to film the attack. “This proves he lacks sensitivity and is determined, and adds to the tremendous cruelty of his acts. The symptoms of anti-Semitism are always around us and we must be weary of them,” Gueant said.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Paris Chief Prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters that the murderer was cold, calculating, determined, worked alone and appeared to execute pre-mediated plans. Molin said that the investigation had been transferred to a counterterrorism unit, because “racially motivated attacks and attacks of an anti-Semitic nature are also terrorist attacks.”

The chief prosecutor said there was a connection between the murder of a French Muslim soldier in Toulouse on March 11, the murder of two other soldiers of North African descent and wounding of a French soldier from the Carribean Islands on March 15, and the attack at the school. According to Molins, the same gun was used in all three cases and the perpetrator arrived at all three sites on a Yamaha TMAX motorcycle wearing a helmet, indicating it was likely the same man who committed the crimes.

“The murderer does not hesitate to kill his victims at close range, as he did with the soldiers and three of the four school attack victims. We are confronting a man who is very determined and knows there is a broad manhunt taking place to find him. He may act again without hesitation. He has acted each time with a four-day interval,” Molins said.

The French interior minister told Israel Hayom on Tuesday that France was committed to the security of French Jews.

Pierre Basnano, a senior Jewish community leader in Toulouse, promised that security for additional Jewish venues would be bolstered in the coming days.

Meanwhile, also on Wednesday, a package bomb exploded at the Indonesian Embassy in Paris, causing minor damage but no injuries, police and Indonesia’s foreign minister said.

A Paris police official said an employee at the embassy discovered a suspicious package and stepped back in time before it exploded. There was minor damage to a window but no injuries, the official said. The source of the package was not immediately clear.

Asked whether the embassy would be closed, the minister said the embassy would remain vigilant but the bomb would not “deter us from going on with the business of our activities.”

He said it was too early to say whether there was any link between Wednesday’s mail bomb and the attack on the Jewish school in Toulouse.

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