Developing: Suspect Surrounded In France, Claims Al-Qaida Ties

There’s a dramatic scene unfolding in Toulouse, France, where police have surrounded an apartment building in which the suspect in the recent high-profile killings of at least seven people is said to be barricaded.

According to France 24, which is live blogging the news as much of France watches on television, “police laying siege to the home of the chief suspect … say the 24-year-old gunman has agreed to surrender later today.”

He has reportedly wounded at least three officers today during a gun battle.

France 24, the BBC and other news outlets are reporting that the suspect has been identified as Mohammed Merah, a French national of Algerian origin. And as the BBC reports, officials say he has claimed to belong to al-Qaida and to have killed four people (three of them children) at a Jewish school and three French soldiers to “avenge Palestinian children”.

“The shooting suspect is ‘talking a lot, claiming his jihadist convictions’ and calling himself a ‘mujahedeen,’ ” French Interior Minister Claude Gueant has told reporters, according to The Associated Press.

As we wrote Tuesday, the killings in recent weeks raised fears that the gunman was targeting religious and ethnic minorities.

French news outlets, the BBC says, are reporting that “the suspect was arrested in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2010 for unspecified, but not terrorist-related, criminal acts and also has a criminal record in France.” Reuters says it has been told by a “prison director” in Kandahar that the suspect had been sentenced to three years in prison there, but escaped.

We’ll keep an eye on what’s happening and update this post as the story develops.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.