Police Siege of Suspect in French Killings Stretches Into Second Day

Toulouse, France (CNN)— Mohammed Merah, 23, suspected in seven recent killings, remained holed up Thursday in an apartment in the southern French city of Toulouse, more than 24 hours after hundreds of officers lay siege.

Police continued to demand the surrender of the self-proclaimed jihadist.

Merah is wanted in the killings of three French paratroopers and of three students and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse in the past 10 days. He opened fire on police as they tried to break down his apartment door about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, wounding two officers, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said.

Wednesday evening, police switched off the street lights in the district around the apartment, leading to speculation that a new raid was imminent as talks stalled.

Three loud explosions and flashes of light erupted shortly before midnight — but Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre Henry Brandet told CNN the blasts were meant to pressure Merah back into talks with negotiators, and police had not moved in on the apartment.

Around 12:30 a.m. Thursday (7:30 p.m. Wednesday ET), a police convoy left the scene with what appeared to be someone huddled beneath a blanket in the back seat of one of the cars. But there was no sign the siege was breaking up, and two more explosions rang out about an hour later.

Merah told French police that he trained with al Qaeda in Pakistan’s Waziristan region, bordering Afghanistan, and that he planned to attack more soldiers and police Wednesday, Molins said. He said he was acting alone, the prosecutor added.

Ebba Kalondo, the senior news editor of the television network France 24, told CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” that the suspect had called her about two hours before police arrived at his residence and laid out details of the killings that only police would have known — “very, very specific information” such as the number of shots fired and the shell casings left behind.

“He seemed to be very aware that a massive manhunt was under way for him,” Kalondo said. “He said he wasn’t scared, and that neither capture nor death scared him at all.”

Hours into the siege, French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke at a memorial service for the three paratroopers, calling their killing “a terrorist execution.”

One of the victims was due to become a father soon, but “a killer without scruples decided that he would never meet the child to be born,” Sarkozy said.

Earlier Wednesday, Sarkozy called on his nation “to unite together to show that terrorism will not be able to fracture our national community.”

Sarkozy’s office said U.S. President Barack Obama had called his French counterpart to offer his condolences and praise the efforts of French police. France and the United States are more determined than ever to fight together against terrorist brutality, Sarkozy’s office said.

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