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French Minister Denies Shooting Suspect Arrested


Murdered French paratroopers Imad Ibn Ziaten, Abel Chennouf, and Mohamed Legouade
The French interior minister has denied reports that the Frenchman suspected of carrying out this week's slayings of three Jewish children and a rabbi and the earlier murders of three French soldiers has been arrested.

French television channels had reported the suspect was arrested after a nearly 12-hour standoff with police in Toulouse.

The suspect has been identified as Mohammed Merah, said to be a Frenchman of Algerian origin.

The suspect had barricaded himself in an apartment building surrounded by hundreds of riot police.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant said three police were injured in a shoot-out with the suspect earlier on March 21.

The minister said the suspect, a 24-year-old French citizen, has claimed to be linked to Al-Qaeda, that he wanted revenge for Palestinian children, and also wanted to punish the French Army because of its foreign interventions.

The minister, who was at the scene of the stand-off, said the man was known to authorities for having spent time in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"He claims to be a mujahedin and belong to Al-Qaeda and he wanted revenge for the Palestinian children," Gueant said, "and he also wanted to take revenge on the French Army because of its foreign interventions."

'Terrorist Execution'

Addressing a memorial in southwestern France for the murdered soldiers, President Nicolas Sarkozy said the three were victims of a "terrorist execution."

Police mounted a massive manhunt after the shooting that left the three children and the rabbi dead at a Jewish school in Toulouse on March 19, and the killings of the soldiers in two separate attacks in the same region earlier in March.

Police said the suspect has surrendered a handgun by throwing it out of a window but has also told police he is in possession of additional weapons.

The French interior minister said the suspect had made no demands in return for his surrender. Earlier, police detained a brother of the suspect in another part of Toulouse.

The three children and the rabbi killed at the Jewish school were buried in Jerusalem on March 21. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe flew to Israel for the funeral, which was attended by more than 2,000 people.

President Nicolas Sarkozy met with the leaders of France's Jewish and Muslim communities and vowed that terrorism will not break France's unity.

Later, he is expected to attend a memorial service in the town of Montauban, near Toulouse, for the three soldiers who were gunned down. All three were of North African origin.

With Reuters, dpa, and AFP reporting
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