At that point, the situation turned into a waiting game, with the suspect behind his door and police negotiators trying to persuade him to surrender. The standoff continued late into Wednesday night, as riot police cut off electricity and natural gas into the building and set off small explosions outside, blowing off the apartment’s shutters to pressure the man to surrender, the Associated Press reported.
The authorities’ patience seemed to reflect a determination by President Nicolas Sarkozy to put the man on public trial for what were described as terrorist acts by a committed Islamist militant who had trained at a Taliban camp in Afghanistan.
Sarkozy was described as furious that such hateful crimes could be committed in France. In addition, the issues the suspect has cited are particularly sensitive as Sarkozy runs for reelection in two rounds of voting, scheduled for April 23 and May 6. The president is eager to be seen as a firm defender of security, lest any of his conservative support shift to the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen of the National Front.
“This man wanted to bring the republic to its knees,” Sarkozy said at a memorial service for the soldiers. “The republic did not bend. He will pay for his crimes.”
France’s Jewish and Islamic authorities, along with relatives of the victims, expressed relief that a suspect had been cornered. The only threat to France now, Sarkozy told them, would be the desire for revenge by one community against another.
“Terrorism will not succeed in fracturing our national unity,” he said he told the community leaders.
Francois Molins, the chief Paris prosecutor heading the investigation, said the suspect, whom he identified as Mohammed Merah, 24, told negotiators that he had carried out the killings to avenge Palestinian children killed by Israelis, challenge France’s military role in Afghanistan and protest last year’s law banning Muslim women from wearing full-face veils on the street.
Merah, a French national of Algerian origin, said in long conversations through a barricaded door that he had made plans to kill a fourth soldier Wednesday and two Toulouse policemen at a later date, Molins told reporters.
“He had no regrets, except that he did not have the time to carry out more killings,” Molins said.
In a 2 a.m. telephone call to the newsroom of France 24, the government’s all-news television station, Molins said, Merah declared that he was a follower of al-Qaeda and laid out the political reasons for his acts. He carried out all three attacks alone, he added in the phone conversation with an overnight editor, and they were filmed by a video camera that witnesses said was around his neck.