The Al Qaeda fanatic who murdered seven people in south west France died after being shot in the head in a vicious gunfire battle after police stormed his apartment following a 32-hour siege.
The Toulouse terrorist burst out of his flat’s bathroom ‘shooting insanely’ at officers, before leaping to his death from a window.
In scenes reminiscent of a Hollywood film, Mohammad Merah, 23, unleashed round after round from automatic weapons after gas cannisters were thrown into his apartment and police stormed in.
Two officers were injured, including one who is still in a serious condition.
Interior Minister Claude Gueant said: ‘We sent in special cameras to be able to see where he was but we could not find 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 police had to protect themselves.
‘Merah jumped out of the window and continued to shoot. He was found dead on the ground.’
Merah, who admits murdering seven people in the past week, had been holed up in his flat in the city of Toulouse with a variety of weapons since 3am yesterday.
Police decided to move in after negotiations broke down and he threatened to start killing officers.
Following Merah’s death, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said an investigation has now been launched to see if he had any accomplices.
He also said anyone who regularly visits ‘websites which support terrorism or call for hate or violence will be punished by the law.’
And he promised a crackdown on anyone who goes abroad ‘for the purposes of indoctrination in terrorist ideology’.
This morning police turned powerful spotlights on Merah’s building to try and blind him and keep him from seeing the operation closing in around him.
He had said he wanted to ‘die with weapons in his hands’.
But there were earlier suspicions he may have committed suicide.
This was because he had not made contact since late last night.
Interior Minister Claude Gueant earlier said it was unclear whether he was still alive, adding: ‘There was no movement during the night. We hope he is still alive.
‘Despite renewed efforts all through the night to re-establish contact by voice and radio, there has been no contact, no showing from him.’
‘We have one priority – to take him alive so that he can surrender to face justice.
‘It has been quite strange that he did not react to the explosions and gunfire overnight.’
The first explosion this morning was said to have led to the breaching of a wall of Merah’s flat, while two were thought to be stun grenades.
After three explosions were heard, the deputy mayor of Toulouse and French police said negotiations were over and the assault had begun, with the door to the apartment being blown open.
But soon after, the French Interior Ministry denied the operation had begun and said the explosive devices had been used to blast off the shutters from Merah’s apartment to intimidate him into giving himself up.
‘They were moves to intimidate the gunman who seems to have changed his mind and does not want to surrender,’ ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said. ‘There is no assault.’
But ‘the suspect’s door was been blown open, and the operation to arrest him is taking place,’ said a police source.
Special forces from RAID, the French tactical forces brigade from Paris, carried out the operation, all wearing body armour and brandishing sub-machine guns.
Another series of blasts came shortly after 11am local time.
It came as police in Paris said the convicted Jihadist may have been in touch with a woman in Paris while he was carrying out his crimes.
The mystery woman is said to have been spotted talking to Merah from a train at the Gare de l’Est on Monday – just before he carried out an attack on a Jewish school.
Intrigued by the conversation – which was about the killing of three soldiers – another passenger is said to have asked the mystery woman ‘Were you talking to the Toulouse killer?’
Investigators are taking the lead ‘very seriously’, according to police sources, because it fits in Merah’s telephone records, which have since been compiled by the police.
It also came as the French authorities faced questions as to how the convicted Jihadist had been allowed to live freely after being caught planting bombs for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Anti-terrorism chief Francois Molins said Merah had trained with Al Qaeda terrorists in the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan, and had been planning to kill two soldiers and a policeman.
Merah killed a Rabbi and three pupils at a Jewish school in the city on Monday, and assassinated three soldiers last week. He filmed all his crimes and had pledged to post footage on the internet.
During the first raid yesterday morning one officer was shot in the knee, one on the shoulder, and another in the chest.
Mr Gueant said Merah, a French-Algerian, was acting out of revenge for France’s military involvement in Afghanistan.
Merah, who described himself as an Islamic warrior, also wanted to take revenge for what he describes as the ‘murder’ of Palestinian children by Israeli forces.
‘He claims to be a Mujahideen and to belong to Al Qaeda,’ said Mr Gueant, who was at the scene of the tense stand-off.
Merah had earlier thrown a Colt .45 pistol out of the window, but was said to have an Uzi sub machine gun, a Kalashnikov and other arms inside the flat.
One local said he had spoken by phone to a couple who lived in the flat directly opposite the suspect.
He said: ‘They are in their bedroom hiding under their bed, terrified.
‘Just after 3am they heard a commotion, the man shouted down to the police ‘I can see you!’ and began firing a gun.
‘They don’t know the man well, but they said they just used to pass him on the stairwell.’
The house, in north Toulouse, is just a few miles from the Ozar Hatorah School where Mehra killed Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, his two young sons, three-year-old Gavriel and six-year-old Aryeh, and headmaster’s daughter Miriam Monsonego, eight.
All were shot in the head at such close range that the gunfire burned the surrounding skin.
CCTV cameras at the school showed that the gunman recorded his shooting spree with a small video camera around his neck.
Last week Merah shot three soldiers, all of North African or Caribbean origin, in the same area in two separate attacks.
He carried the same weapons and rode a black scooter to and from the attack at 8am on Monday. The fanatic is understood to have had contacts with fellow North African extremists living in Britain.
There are a significant number of Algerian terror suspects living in the UK who are known to police and the security services.
There had been a four-day gap between each of his three attacks – leading to suspicions there would be a fourth on Friday.
Hundreds of anti-terror police officers are currently flooding Toulouse, with south-west France in virtual lockdown.
Yesterday a funeral for the four school victims was held in Israel.
After the plane carrying their bodies landed at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport before dawn, memorial prayers were read over the plain pine coffins bearing Stars of David before they were placed in four ambulances for transport to the Har Menuchot cemetery.
Relatives sobbed inconsolably by their gravesides after they were brought to Jerusalem for burial today.
At the funeral ceremony in Jerusalem, Eva Sandler, the rabbi’s widow and mother of two of the slain children, and Yaffa Monsenego, the mother of the third, burst repeatedly into tears as speaker after speaker eulogised the dead.
The murdered members of the Sandler family were wrapped in white prayer shawls while the body of Monsenego’s daughter was draped in black velvet.
Israeli media reported that Eva Sandler is pregnant and arrived in Israel with her remaining child, a toddler.
About 400 people gathered at the cemetery, including grieving relatives who arrived from France, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and leaders of the French Jewish community.
In his eulogy, Israeli parliament speaker Reuven Rivlin said the Jewish people ‘once again find themselves facing beasts … driven out their minds by hatred’.
Juppe said: ‘An attack on a Jew in France is not only an issue for French Jews. … Anti-semitism is against all French values.’