TIMELINE Serial Attacker Terrorizes Southwestern France

Mohamed Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian descent who is suspected of ties to extreme Islamist groups, is suspected of carrying out a series of attacks over the past two weeks.


Over the past two weeks, France has been rocked by a series ofshootings in and around the southern city of Toulouse, in which seven people, including three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school and three soldiers, have been killed.

On Wednesday, police surrounded the home of suspect Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent who has been linked to extreme Islamist groups.

Soldiers carry the coffin of one of the victims in the Montauban attacks on March 21, 2012. Credit: Reuters

Officials said Merah toldpolice that he targeted the Jewish school to "avenge Palestinianchildren." He reportedly also wanted to protest France's military operationsabroad by killing the three soldiers, who were of North African and WestIndian origin.

March 11:

- French soldier Imad Ibn-Ziaten, 30, is shot dead in Toulouse. The gunman shoots twice before fleeing on a scooter.

He had made an appointment with Merah to buy a motorcycle whichIbn-Ziaten had advertised on the internet. The advertisement had mentioned that Ibn-Ziaten was a soldier.

Ibn-Ziaten had served since 2004, with deployments in Gabon, the island ofReunion, the Central African Republic, Chad and the Ivory Coast.

Police later said acomputer IP address proved key in tracking down Merah.

March 15:

- Two soldiers are killed when an assailant opens fire on troopsat a cash machine in Montauban, 50 kilometers north of Toulouse. Athird soldier is seriously wounded. The unarmed soldiers were on astreet in the city that is home to a paratroopers' base.

Abel Chennouf, 25, had served since 2007, with deployments inAfghanistan and Senegal. Mohamed Legouad, 24, had served since 2010with a deployment in New Caledonia.

March 19:

- A man and three children are gunned down at a Jewish school inToulouse: Rabbi and teacher Jonathan Sandler, his sons Aryeh andGabriel, and Miriam Monsonego, the principal's daughter. Anotherpupil is wounded.

The victims held dual French-Israeli nationality.A witness reported seeing a man wearing a helmet "shooting atpoint-blank range at everyone around him" before fleeing the scene ona scooter.

- President Nicolas Sarkozy and Interior Minister Claude Gueantsay the attack bears "similarities" to those against the soldiers.

- French media quote police sources as saying one of the weapons used in the attack is of the same caliber as that used in theToulouse and Montauban attacks.

- The French Interior Ministry increases security around Jewish sitesacross the country.

- France's chief rabbi, Giles Bernheim, says he is "horrified" atthe shooting, which the president of the union of Jewish students inFrance deplores as "an anti-Semitic attack."

March 20:

- The French National Assembly, Senate and schools countrywidehold a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the shootings.

- A massive manhunt is underway in the Toulouse area for the attacker, whose identity and motives are unknown. There isspeculation that the attacker could have far-right or Islamisttendencies.

- Southwestern France is placed on the highest security alert ofscarlet, denoting the risk of an imminent attack. Authorities willuse "all means necessary" in their search, Sarkozy says. A hugecontingent of riot police has been deployed across the region toprotect religious schools and places of worship.

March 21:

- French investigators trace the suspect to an apartment in theneighborhood of Cote Pavee, Toulouse, not far from the scene of theschool shooting.

- A pre-dawn police raid on the property leads to a shootoutbetween police and the suspect. Two officers are slightly injured. Police negotiators are accompanied by the suspect's mother, but shesays she has no influence on her son.

- The suspect, holed up alone in an apartment in a five-storeybuilding, promises to hand himself over "in the afternoon." He laterchanges that promise to the evening.

- He tells negotiators that he has ties to al-Qaeda. Securityofficials knew that he had spent time in the restive area on theborder between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

- Hundreds attend a funeral service in Jerusalem for the fourvictims of the school shooting. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who escorted the bodies to Israel, tells mourners: "An attack on Jewsin France was not only an attack on French Jews – it was an attack on65 million Frenchmen."

- Sarkozy attends the funerals of the three soldiers in Montauban. He speaks of a "terrorist execution."

- With the stand-off in its 14th hour, prosecutors announce that the gunman had plans to kill another soldier and two Toulousegendarmes. They say he has expressed "no regret" over his actions andhas "boasted about bringing France to its knees."



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