He suggests that Merah may have been killed by a sniper, who fired into the apartment when the gunman became visible on a balcony. He describes Merah as being in "a fighting stance" and says the three room apartment had been turned into a "combat zone":
This is the first time in my life I see someone, as we launch an assault, come lead the assault against us. Everything was barricaded. He had arranged nooks and dens.
Hautecloque says 15 men were sent to actually storm the flat and a further 45 were in support roles.
18.20 A wonderfully Gallic tweet from Soren Seelow, the Le Monde journalist who has been at the scene throughout the entirety of the siege. Roughly translated: 31 hours live = 230 tweets, 10,000 followers, 14 recharges of the iPhone, 12 cafés, six beers, three packs of smokes and one hour of sleep.
18.05 Sarkozy ends with an appeal to the people to the people of France to help him, both as a candidate and as the president of a grieving nation.
17.50 Mohammed Merah was on a US no-fly list, an American official has told CNN, raising further questions about why he was not being more closely monitored. His connections with militants if Afghanistan and Pakistan were apparently enough to set off American alarm bells. One of the major political dangers to Sarkozy is that it emerges French security services missed signs of how dangerous Merah was.
17.25 Sarkozy quotes General de Gaulle as he urges "the construction of a new world", taking in the West's intervention in Libya and urging strong action against Syria. While terrorism has slipped down the list of American and British political priorities it is likely to be at the heart of next month's presidential election.
17.15 Sarkozy has returned to the campaign trail with a speech in Strasbourg. To roaring applause and at a podium labelled La France forte, the president told his supporters:
If France counts in the world it's because France and gives its name to and image to the most beautiful ideals of humanity. France today is deeply hurt by these crimes against children and unarmed soldiers. The values of France have been attacked. But these are not the crimes of a mad man because a mad man cannot be held responsible. These are the crimes of a monster and a fanatic.
17.05 Merah had a bulletproof vest, components of Molotov cocktails and weapons parts stockpiled inside of his flat, Francois Molins has said.
16.55 Speaking earlier, Nicolas Sarkozy said he would try to legislate against anyone who visits websites glorifying terrorism. Le Monde is reporting that would probably run contrary to the French constitution. We're expecting the president to begin addressing a rally of his supporters in the next few minutes
16.44 Nick Squires, on the scene in Toulouse, has just returned from the grim housing estates on the edges of the city where Merah grew up.
Locals - the majority of them immigrants of North African descent - said he started out as a kid who loved football and motorbikes. But he gradually became "indoctrinated" by Salafist extremists, who turned him into a "predator", in the words of a community leader. Merah and his brother also had links to two extremist groups, it seems.
16.30 Our graphics team have done a comprehensive interactive guide to Merah's path of destruction, as well as the siege and his ultimate demise. All in all the siege lasted 32 hours but it all started on March 11 at Cite de l'Espace when an army officer was shot and killed while waiting to see a man about selling his motorcycle
15.45 More from Jund al-Khilafah, the al-Qaeda affiliated group who claimed responsibility for the attacks, and the statement they posted on jihadist websites:
On ... March 19th, our brother Yousef the Frenchman carried out an operation that shook the foundations of the Zionist Crusaders ... and filled their hearts with terror," said the statement apparently referring to the shooting of an Israeli-French teacher and three children at a Jewish school in France.
We claim responsibility for these operations," said the statement, adding that Israel's "crimes ... will not go unpunished.
15.36 Henry Samuel, our French correspondent, claims that Merah filmed all the murders in gory detail, according to the prosecutor, and can be heard saying "you killed my brothers, I kill you", in one execution. That would tie in with reports earlier this week that he may have used an extreme sports video camera attached to his chest to film each murder.
15.33 Reports out of Spain claim that security services were once alerted by French intelligence that Merah was believed to be heading for the Costa Brava to attend a meeting of Islamist activists.
State-run national news agency EFE said it was confirmed that he had been earlier identified by the paramilitary Civil Guard in 2007 when the car in which he was travelling with three other North Africans was stopped for a routine check at La Jonquera on the frontier with France at the northern end of the Costa Brava. He was on a tourist trip.
15.27 Marine Le Pen, the far-right French presidential candidate, has accused the French government of surrendering poor suburbs to Islamic radicals following the death of Mohamed Merah. Le Pen, who took the reins of France's anti-immigrant National Front party from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen last year, said:
The government is scared. I've been saying this for 10 years. Entire districts are in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists and I say it again today the danger is underestimated.
The reality dawning on the French people is that social and civil peace has been bought in a number of districts and that price is the development of (fundamentalist) networks.
She accused France's intelligence services of failing to track the suspected killer Mohamed Merah despite the fact he had been arrested repeatedly and boasted of being linked to al-Qaeda.
Marine Le Pen
15.06 Jund al-Khilafah, an al-Qaeda linked group, has claimed responsibility for the shootings in Toulouse by Mohamed Merah, US monitoring group SITE says. It said in a statement:
Jund al-Khilafah, a jihadist group that had previously claimed attacks in Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, claimed responsibility for the shootings in France.
14.59 France's BFMTV Tweets that a group with links to al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the Toulouse killings by Mohamed Merah. We'll bring you more when we have it.
The Toulouse shootings dominated the front pages of today's French newspapers
14.46 Just to confirm, officials now say five police were injured during the shoot-out with Mohamed Merah. One suffered a wound to the foot and the others wer lightly injured.
14.30 Prosecutor Francois Molins says police did everything possible to take Merah alive, which led to five officers being wounded:
We did everything we could to seize him alive but when we tried to move into the flat, we knew he would fight to the death. He resisted everything we had thrown at him for the last 32 hours. He was entirely determined that when police came into the apartment he came out and shot at them.
It is precisely because all this was done that the operation lasted so long, at RAID's peril, with five of them wounded.
He said the policemen's wounds were light, except for one to a policeman's foot.
He added that Merah had told police he was radicalised while in prison, during which time he began reading the Koran.
Prosecutor Francois Molins
RAID officers walk from the scene of the siege shortly after a gun battle in which Mohamed Merah was killed
14.18 Mohamed Merah filmed all three of his shooting attacks in their entirety using a GoPro camera strapped to his body and said he posted the footage on the Internet, prosecutor Francois Molins said.
During the 32-hour stand-off before his death, Merah told police that he posted the footage on the Internet but "we don't know where or how or when", said Molins.
Police found the camera after Merah told them he had given it to an acquaintance, he added.
14.17 Apologies for the pause in updates there - technical glitch this end.
13.54 Francois Molins, the French prosecutor, says Mohamed Merah died from a gunshot wound to the head after RAID police stormed his flat in Toulouse.
13.32 US military officials in Afghanistan say they have "no information" about the Toulouse gunman being held by international forces after he was detained in the country French prosecutor Francois Molins said yesterday that Afghan police detained Mohamed Merah at a checkpoint and handed him over to US troops "who put him on the first plane back to France". But Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings, spokesman for NATO's US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said he was not aware of this. He said:
As of now I have no information on him being in ISAF or US custody. We are working to ascertain the details of his activities, to include if he was detained, during his suspected time in Afghanistan.
13.12 Mohamed Merah's former lawyer Christian Etelin has criticised police tactics which led to the al-Qaeda gunman's death. He told AFP:
His death is the logical outcome of the strategy adopted, he was increasingly shut up in his autism, in his removal from reality, nothing was done to help him and reestablish a link, dialogue.
I would have liked for everything to have been done to understand how he could have undertaken such a process of dehumanisation... this is a missed opportunity for understanding of human beings.
He said the police strategy during a 32-hour siege of Merah's flat "could only push him straight towards being hardline and wanting to die with weapons in his hands".
13.07 Less than three hours after Mohamed Merah's death, campaigning for the French presidential election is back on. After a three-day campaigning truce between candidates following the Toulouse shootings, President Sarkozy will hold a rally in Strasbourg at 5pm today.
13.01 A French teenager who was wounded during Mohamed Merah's gun attack outside a Jewish school is now in a critical but stable, his uncle Patrick Bijaoui says.
He remains in a critical state but Aaron, who is 15-and-a-half, is young and robust. He's not in a coma. He's breathing unaided and can speak a little, but the morphine has clouded his consciousness.
Mr Bijaoui said Aaron had received surgery twice on Monday after he was shot in the attack at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, in which three younger children and a teacher died.
The .45 round from the attacker's handgun passed through the boy's left arm and then right through his torso, skimming his heart and puncturing his lungs and stomach, he said. Referring to Mohamed Merah, he said:
It is a shame that he's dead and won't face justice, but at the same time we're relieved for the rest of the population that he's no longer in a position to harm anyone.
12.57 Watch video footage of the Telegraph's Fiona Govan reporting from the scene of the siege as shots rang out during the gun battle with police.
12.53 Mr Sarkozy also insisted that authorites had done everything possible to take the guman alive but that this had not been possible, confirming that he was killed in the firefight with police.
12.44 President Nicolas Sarkozy warned that those who visit extemist websites will be severely punished:
France has shown its indignation and grit but has not allowed anger to take over.
The Muslim faith has nothing to do with the insane acts of this man. Before targeting Jewish children, he targeted other Muslims.
We must be implacable in defending our values. We will not allow this ideology to affect us.
From now on, any person who habitually consults websites that advocate terrorism or that call for hatred and violence will be punished by the law.
France will not tolerate forced recruitment or ideological indoctrination on its soil.
12.31 Footage on Sky News shows French Interior Minister Claude Gueant hiding behind an armoured car, peering over the bonnet, to keep an eye on the action as RAID officers stormed the building where Mohamed Merah staged his final shoot-out with police. President Sarkozy praised Mr Gueant for his "outstanding work" in a speech a few minutes ago.
12.29 Mr Sarkozy added that all those who visit websites that glorify extremism and acts of terrorism will be punished with the full force of the law.
12.25 President Nicolas Sarkozy has just finished giving a statement on the Toulouse shootings. He said France must be "implacable in defending its values".
12.18 Francois Hollande, the French Socialist party leader, has paid tribute to the bravery and determination of the RAID officers who confronted Mohammed Merah, Tweets the French newspaper Le Monde.
12.15 Police sources are now saying that Mohammed Merah was shot by police as he fled his flat onto a balcony.
11.58 President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to address the nation on the Toulouse shootings any minute now.
11.53 Here is a complete translation of French Interior Minister Claude Gueant's account of the raid, coutesy of the Telegraph's France correspondent Henry Samuel, who has a far superior command of the French language than me.
Our final contact with the killer revealed his extreme dangerousness. He had indicated that he wanted to give himself up at 10.45pm. At 10.45pm contact was once again made with him. He indicated he would not give up and wouldn't go without a fight and if he was taken he would kill policemen.
This morning, decision taken to arrest him. At 10.30am, grenades were launched as others had been in the night. No reaction was manifest. The Raid offices then decided to enter the flat first by the door, then the windows whose shutters had been removed overnight. Technical devices were introduced. Given the dangerousness and death threats, video techniques were introduced to inspect the different rooms. On the facade, no presence was detected, the inspection of the toilets revealed no presence.
All that was left was the bathroom. When a device introduced, the killer came out of the bathroom, shooting with extreme violence. The gunfire bursts were frequent, very hard. An officer used to this type of situation said he had never seen an assault this violent. The officers sought to protect themselves, to riposte. In the end, Mohammed Mehar jumped out of hte window, weapon in hand and continued to shoot, he was found dead on the floor.
Claude Gueant addresses the media, less than half an hour after the fierce gun battle which ended in the death of gunman Mohammed Merah
11.45 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has paid a visit to the the families of four people killed by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse on Monday. Three French-Israeli children and a teacher, who were gunned down on Monday morning at a Jewish school in southern France, were buried in Jerusalem on Wednesday during a funeral attended by thousands. During a condolence call to Eva Sandler, who lost her 30-year-old husband Jonathan and her two sons, Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 4, Netanyahu said Israel was created as a safe haven from just such threats. He said:
I saw the depth of the grief and pain of a young mother who is feeding a baby, who lost her husband and two of her little children, the agony of life cut short and hope which was crushed, and I think to myself: what cruelty, what barbarity can cause a man to do an act which is so inhumane.
For these murderers, wherever a Jews walks, every centimetre of land he walks on, is occupied territory. From their perspective, Jews have no place in the world. They want to murder Jews wherever they are, and for that reason the state of Israel was established.
Netanyahu then went on to meet the family of seven-year-old Myriam Monsonego, whose father is the principle of the Toulouse school where the shooting occurred.
French Ambassador Christophe Bigot said he had come to show France's "strong solidarity" with the bereaved families.
Those kids were our kids. They were French kids and also Israeli kids.
11.39 President Nicolas Sarkozy praised police and security services for bringing the siege to a close. In a statement, he said:
I wish to congratulate all the security forces after the denouement of the tragic events of Montauban and Toulouse. Our thoughts at this time are particularly with the people murdered or injured by the presumed killer.
11.31 Dozens of police and firefighters are walking away from the scene with relieved expressions on their faces.
11.20 RAID police entered the flat through the front door and the windows after the shutters on the property were removed, Claude Gueant, French Interior Minister said. He said the move followed a promise by the gunman yesterday that he would surrender at 10.45pm. Mr Gueant said:
We therefore made contact with him (at 10.45pm last night) but he indicated that he would not surrender and that if we attempted to seize him he would kill the police, so the decision was made to seize him.
He added that grenades were hurled into the property by RAID officers at around 10.30am this morning before police moved in fully "aware of the danger and threat" that lay before them.
Armed RAID officers prepare to storm Mohammed Merah's flat
11.12 Claude Gueant added that two police officers were receiving treatment following the firefight, one for a foot injury and another who is suffering shock. He said:
I want to pay tribute to the extreme devotion and courage of the RAID police. I want to thank all the police for the incredible investigation that has been done. They managed to identify the killer in such a short period of time.
11.03 French Interior Minister Claude Gueant has just given a remarkable description of the gun battle which ended in Mohammed Merah's death less than half an hour ago. He said the police decided to storm the building after the gunman had threatened to kill police and refused to surrender late last night. Describing the raid itself, he said:
We sent in special cameras to be able to see where he was but we could not locate him. It was when we were able to locate him in the bathroom that he came out shooting madly at everybody.
The police had never seen anything like this kind of violence and the RAID officers had to protect themselves.
In the end, Mohammed Merah jumped out of the window with a gun in his hand, still shooting. He was found dead on the ground.
10.57 Fiona Govan reports:
Ambulance crews are carrying a stretcher out of the building. Claude Gueant and a group of police are coming over to make a statement.
10.52 Henry Samuel adds that apparently more than 300 rounds were fired during the five-minute gun battle.
10.47 Henry Samuel reports:
The police were in the apartment, he started shooting at them, they fired back in self defence. Different types of arms being used.
He adds that officers were trying to make him run out of ammunition but could not use gas because they had blown a hole in the wall and the door off, which would have created too much air flow.
10.45 Didier Martinez, of the SGP police union, has just confirmed to media at the scene that Merah is dead.
10.43 Fiona Govan says another ambulance has just sped away from the scene with its blue lights flashing.
10.41 Police sources have told AFP that three police have been wounded, one seriously in the final assault moments ago.
10.39 An ambulance which was parked directly outside the building is being driven away from the scene. The driver did not appear to be in a rush, judging by the speed with which it left.
10.36 Fiona Govan says from the scene:
Mohammed Merah promised that he would die with a gun in his hand, and it would seem from the intensity of the gunfire in the last few minutes that that was the case.
10.35 Police sources say Mohammed Merah is dead, reports Fiona Govan.
10.34 It would appear that the siege is over - 32 and a half hours since it began.
10.31 After five minutes of almost non-stop gunfire interspersed with explosions, silence seems to have fallen in the building.
10.30 Fiona Govan describes the scene as one of "tense anticipation" but says dozens of residents and even children are milling around at the scene trying to catch a glimpse of the action.
10.29 Huge barrage of automatic gunfire. The firefight is intensifying.
10.28 Fiona Govan says the gunfire sounds as if it is coming from two different directions rather than the same source.
10.26 I'm on the phone to Fiona Govan as I write and we can here volley after volley of automatic gunfire and several explosions.
10.25 Fiona Govan adds:
Have been told that the three explosions heard just under an hour ago were flash bombs/stun grenades.
10.23 Fiona Govan writes from the edge of the police cordon at the scene:
Reports here that police have entered the apartment building of suspect. Nothing visible here on the ground and no noise coming from the building.
10.21 Police sources say officers are moving "step by step" through Merah's flat for fear of booby traps. AFP reports:
The source said there was no sign yet of suspect Mohamed Merah. "He has not shown himself," the source said.
10.12 Police sources are also now confirming what we told you a moment ago that RAID officers are now in Merah's flat.
10.10 AFP has the following update on claims that the siege is coming to an end.
The source said the siege was "rapidly" moving to its conclusion but would not say whether authorities believed suspect Mohamed Merah was alive or dead.
10.08 We now have video footage from the scene at the time of the three blasts.
10.06 AFP says a police source has told them the siege is coming to an end.
09.52 Reuters claims that the three recent explosions were much louder than those during the night:
The blasts were much bigger than periodic small explosions that police have been setting off around the five-storey building since the early hours of Wednesday in an attempt to tire out Mohamed Merah and capture him alive.
09.46 Le Monde's sleep-deprived Soren Seelow has similar thoughts on the explosions, saying they sounded similar to those last night and could be aimed at getting a reaction from the gunman.
A woman speaks with a police officer near the building where Mohamed Merah is hiding
09.40 AFP reports that an ambulance was then seen passing through a security cordon immediately after the three blasts were heard.
09.35 Three blast have been heard at the scene in the last minute. Fiona Govan says:
It didn't sound like gunfire, more like explosions. We heard similar blasts last night and nothing happened. It is possible that this is a simlar tactic to try to get the gunman's attention.
09.30 Nick Squires reports that Merah reportedly became a fanatic after a stint in jail.
A woman who knew Mohamed Merah as a boy and then saw him descend into a life of petty crime spoke to The Daily Telegraph at the scene of the siege.Malika, 40, who declined to give her full name, is a bus driver in the area where the siege is taking place. She says he turned from a life of petty crime to radical Islam after being sent to prison. She said:
He was a normal kid, very cute, with no problems at all. But he started to get into trouble – he became a delinquent. Things started to degenerate when he was in his teens. He did some hold-ups of shops, he snatched bags. They sent him to prison before he was even in his twenties. He must have met someone inside who introduced him to radical ideas because when he came out, his mother told me that he was completely changed. She had no idea how to relate to him anymore. His older brother is even more radical and the two of them went off to Afghanistan together, along with the older brother’s girlfriend. Their mother lost all contact with them then.
09.24 The Telegraph's Fiona Govan writes from the scene:
Firemen in street outside apartment can be seen donning oxygen masks and helmets.
09.12 Video footage reportedly showing Mohammed Merah ragging a BMW around a car park and making gun gestures at the camera have been posted on YouTube. People claiming to be friends of Merah have said he is fond of fast cars.
09.07 Sky News reports that a stretcher has arrived at the scene. Live footage shows firemen walking around carrying ladders.
09.00 Well that's 31 hours since the siege began. So far, Mohammed Merah has not been true to his word, having promised yesterday to surrender at 2.30pm then "late in the evening".
08.59 Sounds like France's interior minister is right in the thick of the action. Le Figaro's live blog on the Toulouse siege says Claude Guéant is in a command post just 50 metres from the besieged building holding discussions with police and RAID chiefs Frédéric Péchenard, Christian Lothion and Amaury de Hauteclocque. François Molins, the Paris prosecutor is also there. Could this be the precursor for a final push or maybe some kind of announcement?
08.44 Reports from the scene suggest the police, ambulance and fire services' presence at the scene has increased overnight. That would tally with images we have received from during the night.
A van from the French National Police Intervention Group arrives at the apartment block where Mohamed Merah is holed up in Toulouse
08.30 French Interior Minister Claude Gueant has defended French agencies against criticism that they failed to pick up Merah despite claims that he was trained by Al-Qaeda on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. He said:
The DCRI (domestic intelligence agency) tracks a lot of people who are involved in Islamist radicalism. Expressing ideas... is not enough to bring someone before justice.
He said that there had never been any "criminal tendencies" in Islamist radicals in the Toulouse area and no indication that any attacks were being prepared. Officials have said Merah acted alone and Gueant said it was extremely difficult to fight against "an isolated individual".
These so-called lone wolves are formidable opponents.
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant
08.14 Good to see the French hacks are getting into the blitz spirit at the scene of the siege. Le Monde thanks its reporter Soren Seelow for his efforts in Toulouse as the stand-off enters its 30th hour. Apparently he managed to grab a couple of hours' sleep in the car. Hotels are for wimps!
08.00 Mohammed Merah has been styled a "Nike terrorist" by the Telegraph's Con Coughlin in his analysis in today's paper:
In the intelligence world, they are known as the Nike terrorists, whose motto when it comes to committing acts of terrorism is simply: "Just do it." And the spate of shootings carried out this week by a lone al-Qaeda terrorist in south-west France perfectly fits the profile of a new generation of Islamist terrorists who are now regarded as posing a major security threat to the West. Rather than trying to carry out spectacular attacks on the scale of September 11, the Nike terrorists are encouraged to use any means at their disposal to cause the maximum number of casualties
07.44 The Telegraph dedicated a two-page spread in its foreign pages to the Toulouse siege under the headline: "Blasts and gunshots shake French suburb as police move in on besieged gunman." Henry Samuel and Fiona Govan write:
It emerged that Merah was a serial petty criminal, rejected twice from the French army, who had travelled to Afghanistan to be trained as a jihadist.
He had been monitored by French intelligence after being rendered back to France from the war zone. But he went on to carry out three separate attacks in the past two weeks, killing three French paratroopers and then a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school on Monday.
Journalists and residents stand near to the building where Mohamed Merah is still barricaded in Toulouse
07.34 French Interior Minister Claude Gueant has elaborated on his reasons for questioning whether Merah is still alive. He said
We have one priority: to take him alive so that he can surrender to face justice. We hope he is still alive.Despite renewed efforts all through the night to reestablish contact by voice and radio, there has been no contact, no sign of him.
He noted it was "quite strange that he did not react" when police exploded a series of charges overnight to get his attention. Gueant added:
We heard two shots, we don't know what they were.
07.25 Nick Squires has the following round-up from the scene:
It is not yet clear this morning who fired the shots overnight at the apartment where Mohamed Merah is beseiged. The French authorities have not yet said whether it was they who fired the shots, or the gunman. He is known to have a stash of weapons with him in the apartment block in Toulouse where he is holed up, including a Kalashnikov assault rifle and an Uzi 9mm submachine gun. It is also thought he may have hand grenades.
There are unconfirmed reports this morning that the authorities have resumed negotiations with Merah, who is accused of killing seven people in recent days - three Jewish school children, a rabbi and three French paratroopers.
07.18 The UK national newspapers all covered the story today, although after such a busy news day yesterday (Budget, Judith Tebbutt etc), some have placed it in the back of the book. Most have gone in on Merah's alleged wish to kill more victims. The Times has a page 4/5 spread under the headline "My only regret is not being able to find more victims, killer boasts to siege police". The Guardian put the story on the front reporting: "Hit squad surrounds flat as man admits Toulouse killings." The Daily Mirror also placed the story prominently with an 8/9 spread headed "I WANT TO KILL MORE".
07.10 AFP is also quoting French Interior Minister Claude Gueant as saying he believes Merah wants to die "with weapons in hand".
07.07 French authorities are now questioning whether Mohammed Merah is still alive. We'll bring you more on this as we get it.
07.00 The first opinion poll since Merah's shooting spree shows President Nicolas Sarkozy would narrowly beat his Socialist challenger in the first round of a presidential election next month. Sarkozy and Francois Hollande suspended their campaigns after three children and a rabbi were shot dead at the school in Toulouse on Monday. Reuters reports:
A CSA poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday showed Sarkozy would win 30 percent in the first round and Hollande 28 percent, whereas the two rivals had been neck-and-neck a week ago. Despite Sarkozy's lead in the first round, the poll showed that Hollande was still ahead by eight percentage points in a second-round run-off on May 6, unchanged from a week ago.
While Hollande has so far enjoyed a large lead over Sarkozy, the President's response to Monday's shootings has improved his image. Sarkozy has repeatedly appeared on national television giving information on the manhunt and presiding over a ceremony for the fallen soldiers, while Hollande has had little choice but to remain on the sidelines.
The CSA poll was the first to show Sarkozy taking a two-point first-round lead over Hollande.
Nicolas Sarkozy pays tribute to soldiers killed by the Toulouse gunman
06.53 Things have gone very quiet at the scene at the siege enters its 29th hour. The Telegraph's Nick Squires writes from Toulouse:
Day two of the siege and Mohamed Merah is still holed up in an apartment block in Toulouse, surrounded by French police. The French authorities are clearly happy to play a waiting game. We had fully expected to be woken in the middle of the night with news that they had stormed the flat, but the seige continues. The police hold the upper hand - they have time on their side, while Merah is inside his apartment, enduring cold and darkness. Police fired shots during the night, and detonated two loud explosions around dawn - they may have been grenades. Three other explosions were heard at around 11.30pm last night. The plan seems to be to intimidate and exhaust Merah until he gives himself up.
05.50 Pierre-Henry Brandet, a spokesman for the interior ministry, has confirmed the explosions are designed to intimidate the gunman into surrendering. He said police were continuing the blasts at hourly intervals to exhaust the suspect and make him easier to capture unharmed.
These were moves to intimidate the gunman who seems to have changed his mind and does not want to surrender
05.45 Explosions continue to be heard around the building. The blasts have so far blown a hole in a wall and flattened the door of the main building.
04.38 French website Rue89 has created a useful Googlemap of the area with placemarks to show the positions of police, journalists, and where street lighting has been cut.
The red mark is where suspect Mohammed Merah is hiding, the blue points are the positions of the police and the aqua coloured placemarks are where journalists are stationed. The area in dark grey shows where street lighting has been turned off.
View Toulouse Encerclement in a larger map
04.01 The blasts are becoming pretty regular now, with several explosions every 45 minutes of so. Still no word on what the gunman is doing.
03.10 Another two short blasts have been detonated on the scene, according to Le Monde journalist Soren Seelow. He says the police are doing everything they can to ensure the suspect is unable to relax.
02.55 Mohammed Merah was NOT jailed in Afghanistan in 2007, his lawyer and an Afghan provincial officer have told Reuters. Christian Etelin, Merah's lawyer, said it wasn't possible as he had been serving a three year sentence in France at the time for robbery with violence. Kandahar prison chief Ghulam Faruq earlier claimed he had been detained in December 2007 over an alleged bomb plot in the region.
02.00 It has been 24 hours now since the operation started, and it has started to rain. Merah is still holed up inside the building while dozens of riot police and journalists continue to monitor his every move.
01.40 While sources at the scene deny a renewed assault on the building, an official claims police have stepped up pressure. Merah had offered to give himself up earlier but changed his mind, the official added.
01.15 Half an hour after the latest blasts and we still don't know what they mean. As far as we know Merah remains inside the apartment and there haven't been any reports of injuries to police.
01.00 AFP describes the latest outburst as "two new blasts and brief bursts of gunfire". Remains unclear whether it's Merah shooting or if an assault is underway.
00.55 Fabrice Valéry, a journalist with France3, tweets: "At 1:40 three detonations like a gunshot and a loud explosion at 1:48."
00.50 We're hearing reports shots have been fired. Not clear by whom or what they mean. The apparent shots were hollowed by a stronger explosion, possibly a grenade or another breaching device.
00.20 More than 20 hours after the siege began and there's still no resolution in sight. Officers seem to be on the threshold of the apartment but not prepared to storm it.
00.12 France3 reports that the CRS, France's riot police, and Toulouse's local officers have been asked to stay at the first cordon and its only units from RAID that are being allowed near the building.
23.55 An anonymous Interior Ministry officials tells the Associated Press that police blew off the shutters outside one of the apartment's windows in an attempt to intimidate Merah into surrendering. Shows the lengths they're prepared to go to take him alive.
23.45 A spokesman for the Interior Ministry has told Reuters:
They were moves to intimidate the gunman who seems to have changed his mind and does not want to surrender. There is no assault.
23.38 Fabrice Valéry, a journalist for France3, says a police source has told him negotiations have resumed inside the building where Merah is holed up.
23.30 The French Interior Ministry is now saying the blasts were designed to "intimidate" Merah but that a full-blown assault is not underway, Reuters reports.
23.25 Still no gunfire. It seems the operation is either over or police are holding back and not pushing all the way into the flat.
23.12 Suggestions that police may not be forcing their way into the apartment but have breached the outer wall as a show of force intended to make Merah surrender. "Certain sources say [police] smashed a door and are wait for the reaction of the suspect. Not officially confirmed," says Soren Seelow, the Le Monde journalist.
23.05 AFP is suggesting that the first explosion may have been the police breaching the apartment while the other two may have been stun grenades hurled into the room. It's been about 20 minutes since the explosions and no reports of gunfire since then.
23.00 No fresh explosions or bangs reported. Not clear whether Merah is attempting to repulse the RAID officers or if he may agree to go peacefully. Police said he earlier that he didn't appear prepared to die for the cause but rather wanted to be a living symbol.
22.55 This siege began at 3am local time. Just under 21 hours later the police have given up on negotiations and are storming the building.
22.50 The police have turned powerful spotlights onto Merah's building in an attempt to blind him and keep him from seeing the police operation closing in around him.
22.44 Flashing now on Reuters:
DEPUTY MAYOR OF TOULOUSE CONFIRMS THAT ASSAULT ON SCHOOL SHOOTING SUSPECT'S APARTMENT HAS BEGUN
22.43 The Ministry of the Interior is refusing to confirm or deny anything. France is gripped by the action in Toulouse as is much of the rest of the world.
22.35 Blasts coming from the direction of the building and orange flashes lighting up the sky. "It didn't sound like gunfire, it was more of boom," Fiona Govan reports. Impossible to know exactly what's going on but it sounds like RAID are moving in.
22.30 Barack Obama called Sarkozy earlier to "his personal condolences and those of the American people", according to a statement from the Elysée. "France and the United States are more determined than ever to fight together against terrorist barbarism," it added.
22.20 Soren Seelow warns his fellow journalists not to go to the cafe because because the assault could happen at any minute.
There's no way of knowing whether Merah, sitting inside of his empty apartment building, can tell there's been a change of tempo in the streets outside and that France's elite police appear to be readying to move against him.
21.40 From the scene Fiona Govan reports that armed RAID officers in bulletproof vests and helmets are moving into position near Merah's building.
21.22 Some footage from earlier of Ebba Kalondo, a journalist with France24, describing a phone call with Mehar.
21.12 It's not clear how many weapons Merah has left but police believe that he is still holding a Kalashnikov rifle and an Uzi. This afternoon he threw a pistol out of the window, apparently in exchange for a phone. When police moved in early this morning they came under withering fire and later reportedly blew up a car after discovering it was also packed weapons.
21.00 Mehar apparently attacked the Jewish school because he failed to track down any more soldiers - his prime targets. "He said he had planned to attack a solider on Monday but unable to find a target, he took aim at the Jewish school where a teacher and three children were killed," said Claude Guéant, the interior minister.
20.50 A resident tells Le Monde that he heard a muffled sound from the building around an hour ago and a file of RAID officers are lined against a nearby wall seemingly at the ready. Things are getting increasingly tense.
RAID police wait in the darkness in Toulouse
20.35 French journalist Soren Seelow reports that lights in the neighbourhood have been switched off, plunging the streets into darkness. There's movement at the foot of the besieged building but he can't tell what.
The police favour early morning raids (4-5am) but if they sense a window of opportunity they could go earlier.
20.20 Journalists and police on the scene in an increasingly cold Toulouse are digging in for a long night - RAID have a history of patience on operations like this - the unit's first assignment, a hostage negotiation in 1985, lasted 37 hours. The situation at Neuilly in 1993, where Sarkozy was involved, lasted 46 hours. We're currently on around 18 hours.
20.08 Merah's lawyer, Marie-Christine Etelin, who has known the man since he was 17, expressed shock at his apparent fanaticism: "I had never thought that he would fall into such an ideological frenzy. The ideological side was a part [of himself] which he always kept secret from me, and without doubt from others."
19.55 This video from France 2 purports to show Mohamed Merah tearing around a parking lot in a BMW, shouting and making gun gestures at the camera.
19.30 The siege itself is taking place in a cordoned-off part of north Toulouse with police evacuating a zone several yards away from Merah's building in every direction. They've shut off the electricity and gas to the area so the suspect is sitting in the dark and the cold. We think, but haven't been able to confirm, that he's speaking to the police using a phone that was given to him in return for tossing a gun out of the window earlier today.
Mobile coverage on the ground is also very patchy - possibly a sign that the French authorities are jamming the systems to keep him from calling out.
The building on Rue du Sergent Vigne that is under siege by police
19.10 Fiona Govan files from the scene, where the siege is now in its 17th hour.
Night has fallen and the temperature has dropped. Police sources say they are in for the long haul. "We want him alive, which means being patient"
19.00 The elite police unit tasked with capturing Merah has a long history with Sarkozy, Charles Whitfield writes:
RAID (Research, Assistance, Intervention, Deterrence) is the elite unit of the Police Nationale charged with negotiating Merah's surrender. RAID's original expertise was in hostage negotiationsm but in 2002, then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy broadened the remit of RAID to include anti-terrorist operations. According to Le Monde blogger Laurent Borredon, RAID "has the trust of the President" thanks to the unit's successful resolution of a hostage situation in Neuilly, during Sarkozy's tenure as mayor of the city.
A masked French police officer arrives on the scene of the seige in Toulouse
18.40 Nicolas Sarkozy and his Socialist rival Francois Hollande have both refrained from campaigning while the country reels from the killings and waits for the suspect to be caught. But right-winger Marine Le Pen has unilaterally ended the truce with some harsh rhetoric. This from Reuters:
Le Pen, who is in third place in opinion polls for the April 22 first round, cast aside any semblance of national unity as police laid siege to an apartment in southwest France where a young Muslim gunman suspected of the killings was holed up.
"It is time to wage war on these fundamentalist political religious groups who are killing our children," Le Pen said on TV news channel i>tele. "The fundamentalist threat has been underestimated."
Le Pen said Islamist militants had prospered "thanks to a degree of laxity" and that she would seek a debate about restoring the death penalty, abolished 30 years ago in France under the late Socialist President Francois Mitterrand.
18.05 The French authorities seem to be in regular contact with the suspect but it's not clear exactly how. They may be as close as speaking through a door or else have established phoned contact or some other method.
17.52 Speaking on al Jazeera just now French journalist Franck Guillory says France faces many of the same questions Britain did after the July 7 attacks: how do we deal with a small, radicalised minority of our own citizens who turn to terror?
France is finally facing its 7/7. France thought for a long time that we were prevented from having to address these issues and were not concerned by such a challenge. The difficulty now is to make sure that these murders are not used to bring one community against another.
17.30 We're now 16 hours into the siege in Toulouse and still the suspected gunman remains holed up. Sky's Mark Stone, one of the many heroes of the London Riots, offers this update from the scene (shot a little earlier).
17.00 The Afghan link remains very confused. Speaking earlier, Francois Molins claimed earlier that Merah made two trips to Afghanistan and that he was arrested by Afghan troops at a road checkpoint during one of them. Molins said that the 23-year-old was then handed over to the US Army who sent him back to France but provided no details of when that arrest was made.
I've put in a call to the Pentagon and we're waiting to hear back but earlier an Afghan government office in Kandahar denied he was ever arrested:
16.55 France24 has posted amateur footage from a neighbour, who lives just a few feet from the address that Merah is holed up in, of the siege.
16.48 Doug Saunders, European Bureau Chief of Canada's Globe and Mail, sums up what we know so far of Merah in 140 characters:
16.36 Good afternoon all. Thanks Murray for your efforts.
French police have found a T-Max scooter allegedly used by Merah in the attacks and are looking for a car that may contain weapons, according to a prosecutor.
A T-Max scooter has been found with the two dark and white helmets used at the different crime scenes, while a Clio is actively sought and everything leads us to believe that it contains a certain number of weapons and ammunition.
16.30 Thanks for reading for the last 10 hours. I'm handing the live coverage over to my colleagues.
16.18 It is understood that Merah's father is French and his mother is Algerian.
16.15 Mohammed Merah has now said he will give himself up late this evening. Francois Molins, France's top anti-terror magistrate who is overseeing the probe into the killing of three soldiers, said:
He had said he wanted to give himself up in the afternoon or evening, now it's in the late evening.
President Nicolas Sarkozy inspects the coffins of the soldiers allegedly killed by Mohammed Merah
16.06 Francois Molins added that several assaults were attempted on the Toulouse gunman's flat but officers were fired upon each time. He said two police were wounded by Mohamed Merah, one in the knee and another when a bullet hit his flak jacket.
16.00 Henry Samuel has some more detail on the statement from Prosecutor Francois Molins.
"Mehar told negotiators he envisaged other murders, including one this morning of a soldier outside his home. He had other criminal projects, including two policemen in Toulouse, he expresses no regret except not to have killed any other victims and claims to have brought France to its knees," said Paris prosecutor François Molins.
He said he doesn’t have the "soul of suicide bomber - was happy to kill but not die for cause. He was a loner who was capable of staying locked in at home for long periods and fantasied on ultra-violent internet clips such as beheadings, the prosecutor said.
He helped police trace a Renault Megan rented in March, which contained a revolver, a scattergun, an Uzi, and ammunition. He mentioned a Clio also containing arms and ammunition. He gave address where scooter is parked. Two dark helmets dark and white found. A camera was found in a bag given to friend.
15.54 Prosecutor Francois Molins said the US army previously sent the Toulouse gunman back to France after he was arrested in Afghanistan. Afghan police detained Mohammed Merah and then handed him over to the US army "who put him on the first plane headed to France," Mr Molins said.
He added that Merah had been to Afghanistan twice and had trained in the militant stronghold of Waziristan.
15.48 News agencies are snapping that Mohammed Merah had planned to kill another soldier and two police officials, according to a French prosecuter. We will bring you more on this as it drops.
15.40 A scooter dealer has explained how he played a key role in leading police to the alleged Toulouse gunman Mohammed Merah. Christian Dellacherie, the owner of the Yam 31 Yamaha dealership, said he had provided the name of the suspected killer. He said that when police showed him surveillance video footage of the attack on a Jewish school that killed three children and a teacher, he noticed the scooter used in the attack had been partially repainted white. He told AFP:
A young man that we knew had come to see us a few days earlier and had asked us for information about the geo-localisation chip in his machine. He mentioned in an off-hand way that he had just taken apart his scooter to repaint it.
I gave them the first and last names of the young man, which we had in our database since he was 14 years old.
He said he "made the connection" while watching the video.
15.28 Henry Samuel, our France correspondent, writes that the revelation that the Toulouse gunman has links with al-Qaeda is likely to influence the French presidential election campaign, and could prove a gift for the far-Right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen.
The latest developments have sparked a tussle over which issues the campaign will now centre – the need for greater tolerance, understanding and national unity, or anger at perceived laxism towards extremism and a call for a security crackdown that could favour the Right and far-Right.
Marine Le Pen – who has previously likened Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation of France – clearly tried to set the tone by claiming the "Islamic fundamentalist threat has been underestimated in our country and political-religious groups are developing due to a certain laxism. Security is a theme that has just signed up to the presidential campaign."
15.10 Nicolas Sarkozy has told a memorial services for the three soldiers shot by the Toulouse gunman that the killings were a calculated attack on France and the French army. Addressing mourners in Montauban, the French President said:
A French soldier knows death and knows how to look it in the face, but the death our men met was not the death for which they were prepared. It was not death on the field of battle but a terrorist execution. They were killed because they were French soldiers. It was the French army... this republic that the killer wanted to destroy and attack.
He added that the killer had sought to bring France "to its knees" but had failed, during his speech at the barracks of the 17th Parachute Engineering Regiment.
Nicolas Sarkozy pays tribute to the murdered soldiers
15.03 Islam should not be blamed for the Toulouse shootings, writes the Telegraph's Ed West.
It’s easy to get it wrong because so many of the world’s varied extremists, whatever their motivation and however much they might hate each other, focus their anger and loathing on similar targets – the state, the city, modernity, capitalism, and the one group who embody all these complicating, unsettling changes in the minds of lonely, failed young men – Jews. People often make the wrong call because that’s what they want to believe, because it fits into their narrative. The recent shootings in Toulouse are a case in point.
Many people kill in the name of jihad but they do not represent Islam or Muslims, the vast majority of whom will be horrified by the Toulouse killings. It is not religion that turns some young Muslim men in the West violent, but the sense of alienation and frustration that inevitably comes from being a second-generation immigrant.
14.56 Nicolas Sarkozy has now arrived at a memorial service in Montauban for the three soldiers killed by the Toulouse gunman. We'll bring you more on this when we have it.
14.48 The gunman has planned to carry out another attack today, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly told religious leaders in Toulouse. AFP reports:
Sarkozy told Jewish community representatives the suspected Islamist gunman besieged in Toulouse had planned another attack Wednesday. Nicole Yardeni, head of the CRIF Jewish group in the Midi-Pyrenees region, said Sarkozy had told them the shooter "already had a plan to kill again" and that "he planned to kill this morning".
Nicolas Sarkozy arrives in Toulouse to speak to police and religious groups
14.29 Doubt has been cast over claims that the Toulouse gunman was once jailed in Afghanistan on bomb-making charges and escaped during a Taliban attack. Ghulam Farouq, general director of Kandahar prison, claimed this was the case but this has been denied now by Afghan government, as Ben Farmer reports from Kabul.
There is now much confusion in Kandahar over whether the man who escaped in the prison break is the same Mohammed Merah involved in the Toulouse siege. The government media centre in the southern city tweets: "Security Forces in Kandahar have never detained a French citizen named Mohammad Merah."
14.12 Police tapped Mohammed Merah's phone from Monday to trace the alleged killer, says Claude Guéant, the French interior minister.
13.57 Claude Guéant, the French interior minister, has denied that the gunman has been arrested, contradicting earlier reports. He said:
The negotiations continue. They are still under way.
13.43 Explosives have been found in a car belonging to the gunman's brother, AFP reports.
13.39 The body of Corporal Abel Chennouf, 25 - one of the soldiers shot dead by the Toulouse gunman - has been laid to rest at a Roman Catholic funeral in the Cathedral of Montauban. AFP reports:
The funeral took place amid heavy security in the cathedral of Montauban, the southwestern garrison town where he was shot dead last Thursday along with a soldier colleague.
His coffin was carried out of the church at the end of the ceremony by eight uniformed soldiers as members of his family and his pregnant girlfriend looked on.
Chennouf had served in 2008 in Afghanistan and last year in Senegal.
Private First Class Mohammed Legouade, 23, who was shot dead in the same incident that saw a third soldier badly wounded, was due to be buried on Thursday.
Ibn Ziaten, who was killed in nearby Toulouse on March 11, was to be buried in Morocco.
All three soldiers were French citizens of North African descent.
Cpl Chennouf's body is carried past his pregnant girlfriend at the funeral in Montauban
13.36 Still not clear whether the gunman has been arrested or not. Reuters reports:
One police source who is not directly linked to the investigation confirmed the arrest to Reuters, but several other sources said they were not aware of it.
Police at the scene of the siege
13.25 French President Nicolas Sarkozy has reportedly arrived near the scene of the siege in Toulouse.
13.23 BREAKING: That was quick; Reuters reports that the gunman has been arrested. The news agency credits BFMTV. We'll try to verify this and confirm ASAP.
13.20 Looks as if we may see some movement in the Toulouse siege in the next 10 minutes. AP reports that the gunman told police he would surrender by 2.30pm (French time). If he fails to keep to this then police may storm the building.
An official says French police plan to storm an apartment building shortly if a gunman suspected in seven killings and claiming allegiance to al-Qaida doesn't surrender.
Cedric Delage, regional secretary for a police union, said the suspect has promised to turn himself into police by 2:30 p.m. (1330GMT). Delage says if that doesn't happen, police will force their way in to try to take him by force.
13.14 The Telegraph's Ben Farmer reports from Kabul that Merah fled Sarposa Prison in Afghanistan in June 2008 after a Taliban attack.
Ghulam Farouq, general director of Kandahar prison, said Mohammed Merah, son of Mohammed Siddique, was arrested sometime in 2007 while working with Taliban insurgents as a bombmaker.
He spent around a year in the Sarposa Prison on bombmaking charges before he and hundreds of others escaped on June 13, 2008 in a huge breakout. Up to 1,000 inmates, including 350 Taliban militants escaped that day when a suicide lorry bomb breached the prison walls and up to 30 Taliban fighters then attacked and helped inmates escape.
13.04 Mohammed Merah was radicalised after making two trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan, reports John Irish, from Reuters.
The suspect, a French citizen of Algerian origin, had been under surveillance by France's domestic intelligence service for several years after being identified in Afghanistan. But he led a normal life of soccer and night clubbing, according to friends and neighbours who had no idea that he had been in Afghanistan.
The daily Le Monde said Merah had trained with Pakistani Taliban fighters in a border tribal zone before being sent into southwestern Afghanistan to fight against NATO forces supporting the Kabul government.
French troops are part of that NATO operation, which may explain why the first victims of the gunman's killing spree were serving paratroopers killed in Toulouse on March 11 and Montauban on March 15.
French intelligence sources said about 30 French fighters trained by the Taliban were believed to have taken part in attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan.
12.51 Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister, led tributes to shooting victims Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 4, and seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego, as their bodies were laid to rest in Israel today. He said:
Your children are being buried here in the land of Israel, but their memories shall live on and be honoured in the land of France, their homeland as well.
France won't tolerate terrorism. We are determined to fight every expression of anti-Semitism. Each time a Jew is attacked, cursed or killed on the republic's territory, it is the entire French nation that is at stake and must react.
12.43 We have video footage of the emotional funeral service in Israel for the gunman's four victims, who were shot dead outside a Jewish school in Toulouse.
L-R Toulouse victims Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his two sons, Gabriel, 3 and Arye, 6, and Miriam Monsonego, 8
12.35 Christian Etelin, a lawyer who has previously represented Merah, described his former client as a "polite and courteous" man. Mr Etelin told the channel BFMTV that Merah was "gentle and courteous - certainly not a fanatic". He said his client had served a prison sentence for "a common crime" after snatching a bag from someone in a bank.The lawyer, who has defended Merah over various petty crimes since 2004, said
The situation and what I know of his personality, with certain fragile aspects, leads me to fear unpredictable behaviour.
12.27 AFP reports that the gunman has resumed speaking with police negotiators after he stopped talking several hours ago.
12.24 French police have said they are investigating the alleged phone call Merah made to the news channel France 24. Detectives told AFP they were taking the 11-minute call seriously, but could not confirm it was Merah.
12.18 How the French value a lunch break. Fiona Govan writes from the scene of the siege:
A Red Cross van has arrived to deliver sandwiches to the police, ambulance and fire service crews in attendance.
12.06 Le Monde's live blog on the siege suggests that alleged gunman Mohammed Merah tried to enlist in the French Foreign Legion and the French army a few years ago but was rejected on the grounds of his psychological instability and criminal past. Europe 1, the broadcaster, reports:
Between two trips to Afghanistan, Mohamed Merah, the alleged perpetrator of the massacre of the Jewish school in Toulouse and killing soldiers of Toulouse and Montauban, applied to enter the French army and the Foreign Legion, in 2008. He presented himself at both recruitment centers in Toulouse, the TIP of the Foreign Legion and CIRFA of the Army but was not selected because of his criminal record and his psychological instability.
11.55 More detail is emerging on Merah's escape from prison in Afghanistan. Reuters reports:
Merah escaped jail along with up to 1,000 prisoners, including 400 Taliban insurgents, during a Taliban attack on southern Afghanistan's main prison in June 2008.
11.51 Fiona Govan reports from the scene:
Several young French arabs have come down to the scene of the siege to condemn the attacks. "I knew this man when he was a boy, we grew up together in the same neighbourhood, playing football,"said one young man who declined to give his name. "That he went on to carry out these attacks has deeply shocked me. What he did is totally against the teaching of Islam."
11.46 It's hard to know whether the destination on the front of this bus struck fear or relief into the minds of its passengers. Residents in the block where Merah is locked in a stand-off with police were taken to safety after spending several hours in fear in their flats. They were loaded onto a bus marked "special" and driven away from the scene.
11.35 We have a little more from that fascinating call Mohammed Merah reportedly made to the news channel France 24 in the early hours. He is said to have told a journalist that he was motivated by France's ban on wearing the Burka. Ebba Kalondo, the deputy head of the channel's Africa service, says Merah wanted to "take revenge on the law against the full Islamic veil (in France) and also in France's participation in the war in Afghanistan and to protest against the situation in Palestine." Kalondo said:
He was a very eloquent young man. He wasn't at all agitated, nor excited. Very, very calm, very convinced by what he was saying, very polite. He didn't stop saying it was just the beginning.
He told her: "Either I go to prison my head held high or to death with a smile."
11.26 The Telegraph's Fiona Govan reports from the scene:
Police have cut electricity and gas to the apartment black where seige continues.
11.23 Some reports now suggest that Mohammed Merah, the alleged Toulouse gunman, is 23, not 24, as previously stated. We will try to clarify this and update.
11.18 Ghulam Faruq tells Reuters that Merah was detained by security services on Dec 19, 2007 for bomb making offences. He escaped from captivity during an insurgent attack on the jail where he was being held.
11.08 Breaking news from Reuters: alleged gunman Mohammed Merah was previously arrested for planting bombs in Kandahar, Afghanistan, according to Ghulam Faruq, the director of prisons in Kandahar. He was sentenced to three years in prison but escaped in a mass jailbreak in 2008 orchestrated by the Taliban, Furuq told Reuters.
11.01 President Nicolas Sarkozy has also paid tribute to the "exceptional work" of the police in tracing the alleged killer and said he would visit Toulouse attending a memorial service today for the French paratroopers who were shot dead by the gunman in Montauban.
10.44 Extremists must stop using the Palestinian cause to justify their acts of violence, Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad says. His comments come after the alleged gunman, Mohammed Merah, claimed his string of shootings were in revenge for the deaths of Palestinians. Fayyad said in a statement:
It is time for these criminals to stop marketing their terrorist acts in the name of Palestine and to stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children who only ask for a decent life.
10.41 And their pleas are answered: AFP reports that police have begun evacuating the building.
Residents of the small five-storey building had stayed inside their flats under police orders after the operation to capture the suspected shooter was launched. Police said they would be handed over to psychiatric counsellors.
10.34 Residents living in the same block as the gunman are reportedly begging to be let out, although experts claim evacuating the building could hamper negotiations with the suspect. A neighbour trapped in the property, who asked not to be identified, told France Info radio by telephone:
You must ask them to get us out. There are shooting noises and the sound of the man who is talking to him.
Cédric Delage, head of the UNSA police union in the Midi-Pyrénées region, ruled out an evacuation at this stage.
In an anti-terror operation with the arrest of a dangerous individual, it is impossible to evacuate. The evacuation of the building would be the best way to alert the suspect.
10.30 French President Nicolas Sarkozy says the shootings will not divide France. In a brief statement at the Elysee presidential palace, he said:
Terrorism will not succeed in fracturing our national community. We must be united. We must give in neither to discrimination nor revenge. I have brought together the Jewish and Muslim communities to show that terrorism will not manage to break our nation's feeling of community.
10.25 Our French counterparts running a similar live blog at Le Monde report that negotiations between police and the gunman have ceased, at least for now.
10.15 The gunman has told negotiators that he owns a car, a Renault Megane, which is parked at the front of the block, which he claimed also contained weapons. Claude Guéant said the claims were confirmed by police.
Members of the RAID special police forces unit at the scene of the siege
10.11 Claude Guéant, the interior minister, says Mohammed Merah, the alleged gunman, had been "followed for several years by the DCRI intelligence services". He said:
They never had any proof that he was preparing a criminal act. He committed several acts of delinquency, a dozen, some with violence His radicalisation took place within a group with a Salafist ideology and undertook two trips, one to Afghanistan one to Pakistan.
10.05 Breaking news from AFP. Police now say they have detained the alleged gunman's mother, brother and his brother's girlfriend. Henry Samuel reports that a second brother and two sisters of the gunman have also been arrested.
A masked French special intervention police officer arrives on the scene of the seige in Toulouse
09.57 Henry Samuel has more details on the parcel bomb outside the Indonesian embassy in Paris this morning. Still not clear if this is linked to the Toulouse shootings though.
Police are hunting three men following the explosion of a bomb outside the Indonesian embassy in Paris' 16th arrondissement. A witness saw one man jump into a Citroen C3 containing two other men and drive off just before the explosion in the early hours of this morning. Nobody was hurt. No link has been established between the Toulouse killings and the explosion in Paris.
09.47 France's most senior Muslim leader says the gunman has acted against Islam. Mohammed Moussaoui, head of the French Muslim Council said:
These acts are in total contradiction with the foundations of this religion. France's Muslims are offended by this claim of belonging to this religion.
09.43 More details are emerging of the funerals in Israel for the gunman's four victims shot dead outside a Jewish school in Toulouse. AFP reports:
At least 2,000 mourners could be seen at the sprawling Givat Shaul cemetery on the western outskirts of Jerusalem, standing around the four bodies.
The remains of the teacher and his two young sons were wrapped in a white prayer shawl, while that of the seven-year-old girl was wrapped in a blue shroud embroidered with gold.
The bodies of 30-year-old Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 4, and seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego arrived in Israel earlier on Wednesday, two days after after they were gunned down outside a Jewish school in southern France.
Many of the crowd were weeping quietly as a rabbi read from the Book of Psalms, as the distraught parents were supported by friends and family, an AFP correspondent said.
Among those attending the funeral were French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Yishai and parliamentary speaker Reuven Rivlin.
The bodies of four of the gunman's victims are laid to rest in Israel
09.34 France 24 has some interesting detail of thealleged conversation between the gunman and its editor in chief, Ebba Kalondo. His comments support much of what the French authorities have said about the man's background and motives. However, they also report that the gunman claims footage of the shootings will be published online today. This supports claims yesterday that the gunman wore a GoPro camera to film himself carrying out the shootings. France 24 have all the details of that conversation here.
09.24 The gunman reportedly phoned the French rolling news channel France 24 in the early hours today, claiming to be linked to al-Qaeda and that the his crimes were revenge attacks for Palestinian deaths, reports Henry Samuel.
Ebba Kalondo, the editor in chief of rolling news channel France 24, said she received a phone call from a man claiming to be the killer in the early hours of this morning before special forces surrounded him. He gave details of the number of bullets fired in the three crimes and the type of arms used.
He said he was linked to al Qaeda and that it was just the beginning. He said everything was filmed and would soon be on the internet.
09.16 Claude Guéant, the interior minister, has elaborated a little on the trade-off between police negotiators and the gunman. He says the pistol discarded from a window of the property was in exchange for a "communication device":
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.
Gueant said the suspect is thought to be armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Mini-Uzi 9mm machine pistol and other handguns, but had thrown a .45 pistol he used to murder seven people in recent weeks from the window.
The presumed guilty party asked for a means to communicate with police. In exchange for this means of communication, he threw a Colt .45 from the window. He has certainly thrown one weapon out, but he has others.
09.11 We now have images of the front of the appartment block where the gunman is understood to be hiding in a ground floor flat.
09.08 Jérome, a neighbour of the suspect, was woken up at 3am to the sound of gunfire. He said:
We heard banging in the stairwell, then shots rang out. We could smell gunpowder. We all dropped to the ground. People were shouting and then they returned fire.
I saw the RAID (special forces) go up, I opened the door to my balcony for them. They came in, put their machine guns on the table, made a plan and went back down the stairs.
He said the suspect was unassuming.
He was quiet, had a little beard. I thought he was a student. It’s incredible he was behind these attacks.
09.04 A loud blast heard at the scene was apparently caused by police blowing up a car near the building which is under siege. AFP reports:
A police source explained that it was only the blowing up of a vehicle that was blocking access in the area.
09.00 The Telegraph's Fiona Govan reports from the scene that police want to evacuate the building of other residents and that coaches are arriving to ferry them away.
A man who lives in the flat upstairs from the suspect has called his father waiting outside the police cordon. "He is terrified. He woke up to sounds of gunfire and some sort of grenade. Since then little has happened. Building is in lock down and residents can't leave. My son is scared suspect is going to blow the place up."
08.57 There are emotional scenes in Israel, where the funeral of the three children and a Rabbi gunned down outside a Jewish school in Toulouse are taking place, as Avi Mayer Tweets. Follow his link to video coverage from the funeral.
08.50 The Telegraph's James Orr reports on the breakthroughs which led police to the suspected gunman:
First, officers questioning local scooter dealers following the attacks were told by one owner how a customer’s enquiries over how to alter his bike had made him suspicious. The rider had apparently requested a garage in Toulouse to have his Yamaha repainted. He had also asked how to turn off a built-in tracking device which allows stolen machines to be traced, it was reported.
Police are also believed to have uncovered a significant lead when investigating an online advert for the sale of a scooter placed by a 30-year-old soldier who was killed last week. Emails to the paratrooper, in which arrangements were made to view the bike, may have been sent by the gunman’s brother. Detectives were then able to identify which computer was used to send the emails.
08.45 The rector of Paris's Grand Mosque urged the country not to stigmatise its Muslim citizens following the disclosure that the gunman has claimed to be an Al-Qaeda member. Dalil Boubakeur said "99.9 percent" of Muslims in France are law-abiding citizens and that the killings of three soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi in the Toulouse region were the work of a tiny "fringe".
I'm competely surprised that the author of these misdeeds be from a fundamentalist, jihadist, terrorist-type movement of the kind we thought was controlled, neutralised and harmless in our country
We understand the seriousness of this news ... because it is important not to mix this up with the Muslim religion, which is 99.9 percent peaceful, civic-minded, reasonable, non-violent and entirely integrated in our country.
08.42 The funerals for the three French-Israeli children and a teacher who were gunned down at a Jewish school in Toulouse have begun in Isreal. AFP reports:
Around 1,000 mourners, many of them weeping, could be seen at the sprawling Givat Shaul cemetery on the western outskirts of Jerusalem as the four bodies were carried to the gravesite.
08.40 Breaking news from AFP: French police name suspect as Mohammed Merah, 24, of Algerian origin.
08.35 Here are a couple of images of the building where the gunman is hiding, courtesy of Google Street View:
08.30 Sky News reports that the gunman still has other weapons despite handing over a pistol:
08.24 Henry Samuel reports that the suspect opened negotiations with police by hurling a pistol out of the window. Claude Gueant, the French interior minister, said of the gunman:
He said he had intended to give himself up this aftenrnoon. He has asked to negotiate with police in exchange for throwing a Colt 45 out of the window.
Our main concern is to catch him and to catch him under such conditions that he can be brought to justice. Our concern is certainly to catch him alive.
08.21The Telegraph's Fiona Govan has this from the scene:
Suspect is said to be in one of ground floor flats of five storey building. Lots of police milling about outside and at least three ambulances on standby.
08.17 AFP reports that a blast has been heard from the property where the gunman is hiding.
08.16 Far-Right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen has broken her presidential campaign silence to declare: "The fundamentalist risk had been underestimated in our country".
Political-religious groups develop under a certain laxism. We now need to lead this war against fundamentalist political-religious groups who kill Christian children, our Christian children, our young Muslim men and Jewish children two days ago.
08.14 Claude Guéant, the interior minister, has just indicated that the suspect told special forces he had intended to give himself up this afternoon and may do so. Sporadic gunshots are continuing to be heard.
08.12 The gunman has apparently thrown a handgun from the window of his home but is thought to have other weapons, Claude Gueant, the French interior minister, said.
08.10 Here we have some video footage from the scene in Toulouse, where the siege continues:
08.06 Some 300 police have surrounded the five-storey block where the suspected gunman is hiding, Didier Martinez of the SGP Police union said.
08.02 Mathieu Guidère, Islamic fundamentalist professor at the University of Toulouse, said he was concerned the attack might be the prelude to others on French soil, linking it to the mail bomb outside the Indonesian embassy this morning. Monday’s killings came on the 50th anniversary of the Evian accords that marked a cease-fire ending its bloody war of independence from France, after 132 years of colonial rule. Mr Guidère told RTL radio:
Given that the events started on the day of the Evian accords, I am concerned that we could return to 1990s with a launch of a series of attacks on French soil and an organised network on French soil. I hope not.
Everything is symbolic in this affair since the beginning. This individual attacks symbolic places, symbolic people, he even employs an Israeli arm, an Uzi to kill Jews. He had nine months, a year to organise what he is doing. This is very premeditated.
Given the profile of the charafter, his determination and sang froid, I am concerned that he is a kamikaze who is prepared or is preparing a bomb that he may let off at the last moment, so I am very relieved that the building is being evacuated.
07.57 The gunman is a 24-year-old named locally as Mohamed, who spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan, reports the Telegraph's France correspondent Henry Samuel.
Police are evacuating the building where the suspect, Mohamed, 24, is holed up. They have confirmed that he spent time on the Afghan-Pakistan border and had previously been arrested in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, cradle of the Taliban.
Police sources told RTL radio that detectives tracked him down thanks to a tip off from a scooter dealer who said he had received a visit from a man last week asking for advice on customising his vehicle.
07.52 The Telegraph's Alex Benwell illustrates just how close the suspect's home, currently besieged by scores of police, is to the school where a Rabbi and three children were shot dead on Monday:
07.44 The Telegraph's Fiona Govan tweets:
07.38 The suspect's reported previous arrest in Afghanistan related to a common law matter, police sources told AFP.
The suspect had previously been arrested in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, police said. A source close to the investigation told AFP that the 24-year-old, a French citizen of North African descent who is barricaded inside a Toulouse building, had once been arrested on a matter of common law in Afghanistan.
07.34 More detail is emerging about the police investigation which led officers to the suspect's address. AFP reports:
One line of the police inquiry was into an Internet advert to sell a motorbike placed by the scooter-riding killer's first victim, a 30-year-old soldier in the southwestern city of Toulouse. A message sent from the suspect's brother's IP addess was used to set up an appointment to inspect the bike, an appointmnet at which the paratrooper was subsequently killed, the source said.
The suspect's brother has been detained as police in an ongoing operation surrounded a Toulouse house where the man believed to be behind the killing was holed up. Police are hunting a gunman who carried out three shooting sprees. In each one he arrived and escaped on a scooter. The police source also said officers visited motorbike sales outlets in the region and were told in one that a man had recently asked how to turn off the tracking device on scooters that enabled them to be located if stolen.
French police have surrounded the suspected gunman's home
07.28 AFP reports that a police source said the suspected gunman was previously arrested in Afghanistan. Claude Gueant, the French interior minister, earlier said that the man was known to authorities for having spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
07.20 The suspected gunman's address, in a the Cote Pavee district - a quiet suburb in Toulouse - is little more than a mile from the school where he shot dead four of his victims on Monday.
07.17 The gunman was tracked down by police through his weapon, scooter and the internet, reports the Telegraph's France correspondent Henry Samuel.
Police reportedly tracked him down via his brother's email address after he contacted his first victim, a French paratrooper to buy a scooter.
07.10 The bodies of the gunman's four Jewish victims outside a school in Toulouse have been flown back to Israel for burial. The bodies of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 4, and seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego arrived at Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv shortly before dawn. They are to be buried later today.
The coffins of the gunman's Jewish victims are unloaded from an aircraft at Ben Gurion airport in Israel
07.08 It is unclear whether this is related to the shootings in Toulouse, but AP reports that a package bomb has exploded at the Indonesian Embassy in Paris, causing minor damage but no injuries.
A Paris police official said an employee at the embassy discovered a suspicious package and stepped back in time before exploded. There was minor damage to a window but no injuries, the official said. The source of the package is not immediately clear.
07.04 Claude Gueant, the French interior minister, who is at the scene, said the suspected gunman's mother, who is from Algeria, was brought to the scene but she refused to reason with him, saying she had "little control" over him.
She was asked to make contact with her son, to reason with him, but she did not want to, saying she had little influence on him.
06.57 The BBC's Andrew Neil Tweets that claims of the gunman being a member of al-Qaeda will intensify the racial aspect of the presidential election race.
06.52 Police are concerned that the suspected gunman may have explosives and that he will blow up the building, reports the Telegraph's Amy Willis.
The area surrounding the house was cordoned off by police officers wearing full body armour and helmets, thought to be members of France's special weapons squad RAID.
A resident in the Cote Pavee district speaks to members of the press
06.40 The French Interior Minister Claude Gueant says two police officers have been injured in the raid. Gueant says the man is 24 years old, of French nationality and says that "he belongs to al-Qaeda." He says 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. Gueant says the man's brother was arrested.
06.37 Neighbours of the suspected gunman told AFP that shots rang out around 3am as police moved in to seal off a house in the southern city of Toulouse. It is understood that the 24-year-old suspect is resisting arrest.
He was in the first floor of a small building on Rue Vigne in the Cote Pavee district, a quiet residential area, neighbours said. "There was always a lot of people there," said one woman, who refused to give her name. Shots rang out at around 3:00 am witnesses said. One described these as an exchange of fire, and police sources had earlier said two officers were lightly wounded.
06.35 French police sources say officers are engaged in a stand-off with a self-proclaimed al-Qaeda jihadist.
Police are in a stand-off with the suspected gunman at a house in Toulouse
06.30 Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of the manhunt for the Toulouse serial killer following the deaths of three children and a teacher outside a Jewish school in the French city, and three paratroopers. We will bring you all the latest news, as it happens.