Gunman suspected of school shooting beseiged by French police

Suspect had fought with Taliban in Afghanistan

Elite French policeman in Toulouse have laid siege to the apartment of a gunman suspected of killing seven people in recent weeks. Two officers have been wounded, while negotiations continue with the man suspected of killing four people at a Jewish school and three soldiers in southwest France.

Heavily armed police have evacuated the residential area where the raid was taking place, in a suburb several kilometres from the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school at which four people where murdered on Monday. The police have said that the same Colt handgun was used in the school shooting and in the recent murder of the soldiers, all of North African origin.

According to French media, 24-year old Mohamed Merah who is of Algerian origin works as an auto-mechanic and is familiar to neighbours for praying on a football field near his apartment. Merah had travelled to Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt several times between 2007 and 2011, where he trained with militant groups and had crossed the border to fight against NATO troops in Afghanistan. Merah had unsuccessfully tried to enlist in the French army and French Foreign Legion in 2010.

Police are talking to his older brother Abdelkader Merah, who works as a janitor in the building that is currently under siege, as well as his Algerian mother. She was brought to the scene by police but refused to talk to her son, after saying she had "little control" over him.

French Interior Minister, Claude Gueant, has told reporters that Merah, "wanted revenge for the Palestinian children and he also wanted to take revenge on the French army because of its foreign interventions." A journalist from France 24 who was contacted last night by a man claiming responsibility for the killings has said that he said that last year's 'burqa ban' was a further motivation.Gueant, who is at the siege scene, says that Merah is armed with an assortment of automatic weapons and several handguns. Reports suggest that a further cache of weapons were found in a car near the flat.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced that he is travelling to Toulouse in order to visit the injured policemen. Appearing in a televised address he commended the bravery of the police who are carrying out the operation and stressed that terrorism should not be allowed to divide the country. This week's events are likely to heighten the atmosphere of anti-Islamic sentiment that has seen the far right National Front party surge in pre-election polls.