Toulouse, FRANCE - The French Islamist gunman who claimed responsibility for the deaths of seven people, including one adult and three children at a Jewish school in this city, was on a "no-fly" list maintained by U.S. authorities, U.S. officials said.
A 32-hour siege by French police outside Merah's home ended early Thursday morning with a short gunfire burst, killing Merah.
According to a report in Le Monde on Thursday, Merah was not a member of any well-known Islamic terrorist organization, but he did undergo a process of radicalization. Merah also reportedly had entry stamps to Israel and other countries in the region in his passport.
Merah was added to the U.S. "no fly" list some time ago, U.S. intelligence officials told Reuters. They officials would not disclose precisely when Merah was placed on the list.
A source familiar with the listing process said that to have been put on the "no-fly" list, Merah would have had to have been assessed by U.S. security officials as being capable of bringing down an airplane in flight.
Meanwhile, a little-known extremist group on Thursday claimed responsibility for the shootings attributed to Merah, saying they were in response to "Israel's crimes" against the Palestinians.
"The jihadists everywhere are keen to avenge every drop of blood unfairly shed in Palestine, Afghanistan and elsewhere in Muslim countries," said the self-styled group, Soldiers of Caliphate, in a statement posted on a militant website called Supporters of the Mujhadeen.
"We call on the French government to reconsider its policy against the Muslims ... because this policy will only lead to severe punishment and destruction," the statement said.
Merah had earlier stated he had murdered Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 3, and 8-year-old Myriam Monsenego in the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse. He also said he had killed three French soldiers last week.
The commando unit that broke into Merah's home assumed he had either committed suicide or collapsed with exhaustion. They broke in at 11:30 A.M. Thursday, after throwing in additional stun grenades and hearing nothing from Merah's side.
When they reached the bathroom, Merah burst out, apparently firing two guns at the same time at the commandos, wounding three of them.
Preliminary inquiries show he fired about 30 bullets before trying to jump out of an open window. At that moment he was hit by fire from the commandos and probably died instantly. The commandos fired about 300 bullets, French sources reported.
In contrast to the security forces' assumptions, Merah prepared for their entrance and ambushed them. He was wearing a flak jacket and had weapons, ammunition and fire bombs at hand. Police also found videos he took of the three attacks he had carried out earlier with video cameras attached to his body.
In a statement made after the siege ended, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that Muslim citizens of France are not responsible for the "crazy" actions of the perpetrator of the Toulouse shootings, and that all people who consult hate or terrorism websites will be punished by the authorities.
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