France

Guéant denies reports of Toulouse killer's arrest

Reuters/Jean-Philippe Arles

French Interior Minister Claude Guéant on Wednesday afternoon denied reports that the self-styled Islamist under siege in a Toulouse flat has been captured. The man resumed talking to police after breaking off communication two hours earlier, officials said.

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Mohamed Merah, a French citizen of Algerian origin whose age is now given as 23, cut off contact Wednesday morning but was later reported to have started talking again.

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French television station i-Télé cited two official sources, one close the presidency, as saying that he had been arrested but then reported a police trade unionist denying the claim and saying that he was negotiating the terms of his surrender “early in the afternoon”.

BFM TV also reported claims that he had been arrested but Guéant and other official sources denied the claims.

Merah is believed to armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Mini-Uzi 9mm machine pistol and handguns.

Explosives were found in the car of one of his brothers, who was arrested on Wednesday, the AFP news agency reported, adding that the two men were involved in Salafist Islamic fundamentalist circles.

The operation was launched after three attacks in the past nine days in which a scooter-riding killer gunned down seven people, including three Jewish children and three off-duty soldiers, in the Toulouse region.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was near the scene of the siege on Wednesday afternoon.

He and four candidates in France's presidential race were due to attend the funeral of three soldiers killed there.

 

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