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French investigating whether Toulouse gunman was 'lone wolf'

March 22, 2012 |  1:00 pm

Frenchofficers

REPORTING FROM TOULOUSE, FRANCE -- French investigators are trying to establish whether the gunman shot dead after a siege that lasted more than 30 hours was a "lone wolf" or had accomplices in a string of attacks he is suspected of carrying out.

They also want to discover how Mohamed Merah, 23, amassed an arsenal of weapons while allegedly under surveillance by France's intelligence services after spending time with Islamic extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Merah, who claimed to have gunned down seven people in a killing rampage that began March 11 and told police he was linked to a fringe Al Qaeda group, died in a hail of bullets after a shootout with the French equivalent of a SWAT team Thursday morning.

Investigators at first described Merah as a "lone wolf" after he told them he had carried out the killings.  However, police have taken his older brother Abdelkader into custody.  They are also questioning Merah's mother. 

"We are looking for any accomplices who may have encouraged him to commit these acts or given him the means to do so," French public prosecutor Francois Molins said.

Several Al Qaeda-affiliated groups claimed responsibility for Merah's crimes Thursday. One said it had renamed him Youssef the Frenchman, in tribute to his holy war killings.

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Standoff with shooting suspect unfolds in France

Jihadist group claims responsibility for French killing

Suspect in French shooting attacks dead after raid, shootout

-- Kim Willsher

Photo: French police officers leave the area in Toulouse on Thursday where a suspect in a  spate of shootings died after jumping from his window, gun in hand, in a fierce shootout with police. Credit: Bob Edme / Associated Press

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