Mohammed Merah, the armed man who died Thursday morning after a 30-hour standoff with French police investigating the killing of seven people in Toulouse over the past week, was an admitted member of al Qaeda who authorities had been monitoring for years.
We are certain that the man surrounded by police, and whose surrender is expected, is the one who committed this series of killings, France's interior minister, Claude Gueant, told BFM television on Wednesday. Thursday, Gueant confirmed news of Merah's death.
On Monday, three children and a rabbi were shot to death outside a Jewish school in Toulouse. That attack followed the killing of three French military paratroopers a few days earlier.
Merah, 24, had been holed up on the ground floor of a low-rise apartment block in a Toulouse suburb. He reneged on a promise to surrender, authorities said.
Neighbors of Merah, a French citizen of Algerian extraction, described him as a quiet man with a beard who had never done anything special.
In recent years, however, Merah had traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan, allegedly to work with al Qaeda militants, news reports quoted French authorities as saying.
He was arrested in Afghanistan's Kandahar province -- either in 2007 or 2010, depending on reports -- for bomb-making. Reuters reported that Merah was sentenced to three years in prison, but he escaped after eight months during a jailbreak involving 1,000 prisoners, including 400 Taliban members.
Afghan police were notified about Wednesday's raid in Toulouse by French authorities, according to the BBC.
Merah applied to join France's prestigious Foreign Legion in 2008 but was denied because he had a criminal record and due to his psychological instability, French daily Le Monde reported. His record, which includes violent crimes, put him on a police watch list after the shooting death of a French soldier in the Toulouse region earlier this month.
A total of three soldiers were shot to death in the region between March 11 and 15. Two were North African and one was of Caribbean descent. They were killed by the same pistol used in Monday's shooing, when Merah allegedly drove up to the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school and synagogue and opened fire.
Authorities believe he carried out the killings for the Palestinian children and he also wanted to attack the French army because of its foreign intervention.
After Monday's shooting spree, Toulouse authorities called in behavioral analysts to help police make a profile of the killer, Le Monde reported. The specialists looked for people with neo-Nazi opinions, as well as someone who is very cold, very determined, very in control of himself, very cruel, Gueant told reporters.
While Merah wasn't a neo-Nazi, authorities said he has been under surveillance since the death of the first soldier on March 11. They tracked, and eventually located, the suspect through the IP address on his mother's computer. Merah's mother lives in the same apartment complex where he had barricaded himself, and he apparently used her computer to email the first soldier, who was trying to sell a motorcycle online, reports said.
Terrorism will not succeed in fracturing our national community, President Nicolas Sarkozy declared in a brief televised address after a meeting with Muslim and Jewish community leaders. I say to the entire nation that we must be united. ... We must stand together. We must not cede to discrimination or vengeance.