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Jewish school slayings suspect dead after France cops storm apartment, officials say

The alleged gunman in a series of deadly shootings in France, including one at a Jewish school near Toulouse, is dead after jumping from the apartment where he was hold up for 32 hours.  NBC's Jim Maceda reports.

Updated at 10:58 a.m. ET: TOULOUSE, France -- An Islamist extremist who is believed to have killed seven people in France died Thursday after a shootout with police, officials said. 

Interior Minister Claude Gueant said that Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old French citizen of Algerian origin who had allegedly confessed to killing three Jewish children and four adults, was hiding in a bathroom when special forces officers raided his ground-floor apartment.

Merah leapt out a window with a weapon in his hand after "shooting madly" at police who were attempting to end the 32-hour standoff, Gueant added.

The Paris prosecutor in charge of investigation told NBC News police found the video camera he used to film all three attacks and described the footage they found as "very graphic."

Merah was found dead outside his home, Gueant said. Police union sources also confirmed Merah's death, with local prosecutors also saying he had been shot in the head.


Gueant said that two officers were injured during the operation.

Merah told negotiators he killed three soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and because of French army involvement in Afghanistan.

Authorities said Merah, who claimed to have received training from al-Qaida, was believed to have a weapons cache in the apartment including an Uzi and a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

Pascal Guyot / AFP - Getty Images

Police special forces officers prepare to raid Mohamed Merah's home in Toulouse, France, on Thursday.

Earlier, assault rifle and other gunfire rang out for around four minutes. Explosions were also heard. An official told Reuters that gas was also used during the operation to try to paralyze him.

A police source told Reuters that the blasts -- which occurred around 5:35 a.m. ET -- were from flash grenades fired to check for signs of life in the ground-floor apartment. Sustained gunfire was heard in the area around 6:30 a.m. ET.

'No movement during the night'
Before the raid, Gueant told reporters that there had been no sign of life from his apartment for 10 hours.

French police are demanding the surrender of Mohamed Merah, the suspect who allegedly shot seven people and then bragged of bringing France to its knees. NBC's Jim Maceda reports.

"There was no movement during the night. We hope he is still alive," Gueant said on RTL radio. He added that two shots had been heard during the night.

Merah boasted to police negotiators on Wednesday night that he had brought France to its knees and said his only regret was not having been able to carry out plans for more killings.

Merah filmed the shootings of the children and the rabbi on Monday using a camera strapped to him.

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President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose handling of the crisis may influence voters less than five weeks from an election in which he is running for a second term, promised on Wednesday that justice would be done and asked people not to take vengeance.

Islamic extremist Mohamed Merah, who bragged about killing seven people to punish France, jumped from a window after a French SWAT team burst into the apartment where he had been cornered for more than a day. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

France's elite RAID commando unit detonated three explosions just before midnight on Wednesday, flattening the main door of the building and blowing a hole in the wall, after it became clear Merah did not mean to keep a promise to turn himself in.

An Interior Ministry official said that police blew up the shutters outside the apartment window to pressure him to surrender.

Sporadic blasts and bursts of gunfire rang out throughout the night.

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"What we want is to capture him alive, so that we can bring him to justice, know his motivations and hopefully find out who were his accomplices, if there were any," Defense Minister Gerard Longuet told TF1 television before Thursday's raid.

Merah, who told police negotiators he had accepted a mission from al-Qaida after receiving training in the lawless border area of Pakistan, had identified another soldier and two police officers he wanted to kill, investigators said on Wednesday.

Schools throughout France held a moment of silence in memory of the four killed in the Toulouse school shooting. Meanwhile, French police have launched a massive manhunt for the killer. ITN's Martin Geissler reports.

"He has no regrets, except not having more time to kill more people and he boasts that he has brought France to its knees," Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins, part of the anti-terrorist unit leading the investigation, told a news conference .

The gunman negotiated with police all Wednesday, promising to give himself up and saying that he did not want to die.

"He's explained that he's not suicidal, he doesn't have the soul of a martyr and he prefers to kill but to stay alive himself," the prosecutor said.

Rejected by military
Merah's lawyer Christian Etelin, who has defended him in several minor crimes, said that his client had a tendency towards violence that had worsened after a stay in prison and trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"There was his religious engagement, an increasing hatred against the values of a democratic society and a desire to impose what he believes is truth," Etelin told France 2 television.

Speaking to news channel i-Tele before Merah's death, Etelin said his client "wants to show he is exceptional, omnipotent, and this approach can only end up as something tragic."

He added that Merah had tried to join France's military but was rejected.

Reuters, The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.