* Gunman dead after jumping from window
* Police blast apartment with explosions all night
* Two police commandos wounded in shootout
By John Irish and Nicholas Vinocur
TOULOUSE, France, March 22 A 23-year-old gunman
who said al Qaeda inspired him to kill seven people in France
died in a hail of bullets on Thursday as he scrambled out of a
ground-floor window during a gunbattle with elite police
Mohamed Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, died from
gunshot wounds at the end of a 30-hour standoff with police at
his apartment in southern France and after confessing to killing
three soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi.
He was firing at police as he jumped out of the window,
Interior Minister Claude Gueant told reporters near the
five-storey building, in a suburb of the southern city of
Two police commandos were injured in the operation - a
dramatic climax to a siege which riveted the world after the
killings shook France a month before a presidential election.
"At the moment when a video probe was sent into the
bathroom, the killer came out of the bathroom, firing with
extreme violence," Gueant said. "In the end, Mohamed Merah
jumped from the window with his gun in his hand, continuing to
fire. He was found dead on the ground."
Elite RAID commandos had been locked in a tense standoff
since the early hours of Wednesday with Merah, periodically
firing shots or deploying small explosives until mid-morning on
Thursday to try and tire out the gunman so he could be captured.
Surrounded by some 300 police, Merah had been silent and
motionless for 12 hours when the commandos opted to go inside.
Initially, he had fired through his front door at police
when they swooped on his ground-floor flat on Wednesday morning,
but later he negotiated with police, promising to give himself
up and saying he did not want to die.
He told negotiators he was trained by al Qaeda in Pakistan
and killed three soldiers last week and four people at a Jewish
school on Monday to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children
and because of French army involvement in Afghanistan.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is running for re-election
next month called Merah's killings terrorist attacks and
announced a crackdown on people following extremist websites.
"From now on, any person who habitually consults websites
that advocate terrorism or that call for hate and violence will
be punished," he said in a statement. "France will not tolerate
ideological indoctrination on its soil."
His handling of the crisis could well impact an election
race where for months he has lagged behind Socialist challenger
Francois Hollande in opinion polls.
Early on Thursday, the first opinion poll since the school
shooting showed Sarkozy two points ahead of Hollande in the
first-round vote on April 22, although Hollande still led by
eight points for a May 6 runoff.
Three years of economic gloom, and a personal style many see
as brash and impulsive, have made Sarkozy highly unpopular in
France, but his proven strong hand in a crisis gives him an edge
over a rival who has no ministerial experience.
Sarkozy vowed on Wednesday that justice would be done and
urged people not to seek revenge.
Merah had been under intelligence surveillance and the MEMRI
Middle East think tank said he appeared to belong to a French al
Qaeda branch called Fursan Al-Izza, ideologically aligned with a
movement to Islamise Western states by implementing sharia law.
He boasted to police negotiators that he had brought France
to its knees, and that his only regret was not having been able
to carry out more killings.
French commandos had detonated three explosions just before
midnight on Wednesday, flattening the main door of the building
and blowing a hole in the wall, after it became clear Merah did
not mean to keep a promise to turn himself in.
They continued to fire shots roughly every hour, and stepped
up the pace from dawn with flash grenades.
"These were moves to intimidate the gunman who seems to have
changed his mind and does not want to surrender," said interior
ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet.
He was tracked down after a no-holds-barred manhunt in
France, during which presidential candidates suspended their
Immigration and Islam have been major campaign themes after
Sarkozy tried to win over supporters of Le Pen, who accused the
government of underestimating the threat from fundamentalism.
Leaders of the Jewish and Muslim communities have called for
calm, pointing out the gunman was a lone extremist.
On Thursday, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen accused
Sarkozy's government of surrendering swathes of often
impoverished suburban districts to Islamic fanatics, demanding
that the last month of pre-election debate put the focus back on
(Additional reporting by Jean Decotte in Toulouse and Daniel
Flynn in Paris; Writing by Catherine Bremer; editing by Philippa