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French Police Corner Suspect In School Shooting


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

In the southern French city of Toulouse, police are in a stand-off with a man suspected of carrying out a series of shootings. The suspect is described as a 24-year-old French citizen, of North African heritage. He is said to be an al-Qaida sympathizer.

Police seem certain he is the person responsible for the shooting deaths of three children and an adult at a Jewish school, as well as of three French paratroopers Police closed in on his apartment in the early hours of the morning. A shootout ensured. Three officers were injured. And now we're going to learn more from NPR's Eleanor Beardsley. She's following the story from Paris.

Hi, Eleanor.


INSKEEP: Eleanor, what's happening there right now?

BEARDSLEY: Well, right now - and they're showing it live on all the television networks - he's barricaded in the second floor of a small apartment building in a residential neighborhood. Police are trying to talk him out of the apartment. Like you said, he's already shot and wounded three officers.

What the interior minister says what they want is they want to take him alive and they don't want him to be able to take any hostages. So they're using the talk method.

Apparently, he's told them he's going to come out later in the afternoon. He's already thrown one gun out the window, because he asked for a way to communicate with the police, so he obviously wants to talk. And in exchange he threw out a gun. But apparently he's got tons of arms, you know, guns in the apartment.

And so the neighborhood has been blocked off. They're interviewing neighbors, like on the radio and TV. Some neighbors are completely freaked out. They're like just get me out of here. And apparently the police are going to send a bus in to evacuate people.

INSKEEP: And even as this happens, police are trying to get a clear sense of who this suspect is, I guess.

BEARDSLEY: That's right. Well, what he is he's a young Frenchman, 24 years old, of Algerian descent. They've already arrested his brother. They've asked his mother to get involved in the negotiating efforts, but she won't do it. She says he never listened to her, and so she's refused to even call him.

He's a jihadist sympathizer. He's been to Pakistan and Afghanistan in training camps. And he has told the police that he killed people to avenge the plight of Palestinian children and also to punish France for fighting in Afghanistan. And so he apparently allegedly attacked the French paratroopers because this was a regiment that had served in Afghanistan. And so the man hated France. He was angry that France was fighting in Afghanistan against Muslims. And he was apparently enraged to see, you know, fellow North Africans or Muslims wearing French military uniforms.

INSKEEP: How did police zero in on this suspect as the shootings began?

BEARDSLEY: Well, it was hard, because he was - witnesses always described him as dressed in black with a helmet on, so you couldn't really see him. But they did catch his motorcycle license at one point.

What led the police to him was an IP address from his brother's computer, because this man had responded to an advertisement by the first solider killed. That first solider was selling a motorcycle. He was one of the 500 or so people who responded. And the police have gone through every one of those people.

And apparently his name flashed up, because he was already under surveillance by French military police. Apparently there's a dozen or so French people who go every year to these training camps. And when they come back the police keep an eye on them looking for any sort of radicalization. And they were keeping an eye on him. So that's how he came up.

And they planned this SWAT team operation last night at midnight and they just swooped into the neighborhood this morning.

INSKEEP: OK. So a man was killed. Police managed to go from his computer to the suspect's brother's computer. Now, given that this now involves the brother in some way, do they think the gunman is acting alone?

BEARDSLEY: Right now, nobody knows that. You know, the issue is totally monopolizing French covers. There's a lot of speculation going on about different things. So right now we don't know.

What we do know is today one of those soldiers, the one who actually sold his motorcycle, there's a service for him in the south of France. And President Nicolas Sarkozy and all of the candidates are going to go there.

At the same time, there's the funerals of the three Jewish children and the rabbi going on in Jerusalem. Because they had Israeli citizenship, their bodies were taken back to Israel yesterday. So, you know, France is completely consumed by this story, but we don't have all the details yet. I'm sure they'll be coming out in the coming hours.

INSKEEP: Eleanor, we'll be listening to you for updates. Thanks very much.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.