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French police raid under way at house of suspect in Jewish school, paratrooper shootings
TOULOUSE, France (AP) ' French police exchanged fire and were negotiating Wednesday with a gunman who claims connections to al-Qaida and is suspected of killing three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers.
Two police officers have been injured in the raid on a house in the southwest city of Toulouse, French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said.
The suspect is 24 years old, of French nationality and says that "he belongs to al-Qaida," Gueant told reporters at the scene. He said 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.
The man was known to authorities for having spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gueant said.
The man's brother was arrested, Gueant said.
Officers brought the suspect's mother to the scene and tried to get her to help negotiate, but she refused, saying "she had little influence on him," Gueant said.
Some 300 police moved into the residential neighborhood in northern Toulouse ahead of the raid, Didier Martinez of the SGP Police union said.
Authorities have been conducting a massive manhunt across a swath of southern France after seven people were killed in three attacks over the past several days, and France's terror alert level was raised to its highest level ever in the region.
A French paratrooper was killed in Toulouse on March 11, two other paratroopers were killed and one injured on Thursday in the nearby town of Montauban, and three children and a rabbi were killed in a shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday.
The suspect in the attacks drove a powerful motorcycle, and the same weapon, a Colt 45, was used in all three shootings. Another less powerful weapon also was used in the attack on the Jewish school.
Police arrived overnight Wednesday to raid the house in Toulouse, near the site of the first killing.
"When they arrived ... the wanted individual shot at the door," Gueant said.
"We heard gunfire three times, and we turned on the television. Then, the police phone to say to stay in the house," said Wafia Bendali, 26, who lives on the third floor of the large residence where the raid was in progress. She said she believed the suspect lived on the first floor. She said police were in the street.
Another neighbor, Farida Boumama, 48, said her family woke up to voices at 3 a.m. and heard gunfire an hour later.
"I went to open the window to look out and police shouted, 'Go inside and close the shutters,'" she said.
One officer was injured in the knee and another officer was lightly injured in ensuing exchanges of fire, Gueant said.
For years the main terrorist threat that French authorities have been concerned about has been al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which grew from an extremist group in the former French colony of Algeria.
French officials have been worried that the group may try to conduct an action in France ahead of presidential elections in April and May, a counterterrorism official told The Associated Press this week. So far, it has never succeeded in reaching across the Mediterranean Sea to strike in Europe.
The suspect "is a terrorist ... I think all terrorists are crazy whatever their motivation," said Marc Sztulman, head of the Mediterranean branch of the main Jewish organization, CRIF.
"I see absolutely no connection between killers of children in a school under the pretext they are Jewish and what is happening 6,000 kilometers away," he said after meeting with the interior minister. "Only a crazy man can make the link."
While the Toulouse raid was under way, the bodies of the four victims of the school shooting arrived in Israel for burial. The three children and a rabbi will be buried in a Jerusalem cemetery later Wednesday.
They were gunned down on Monday in the deadliest school shooting France has ever known and the bloodiest attack on Jewish targets in decades.
The bodies of the rabbi, two of his children and a daughter of the school's principal were accompanied to Israel by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. They landed early Wednesday.
Thomas Adamson and Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed to this report.