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Shooting Suspect Expresses Desire to Die

A TV grab released by French TV France 2 shows an image of 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent Mohammed Merah, March 22, 2012.

A TV grab released by French TV France 2 shows an image of 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent Mohammed Merah, March 22, 2012.

A standoff is continuing in Toulouse, France, where police have been trying to force the suspect in the shooting deaths of seven people to surrender.

French Interior Minister Claude Gueant says it is unclear if 24-year-old Mohammed Merah was still alive, since police had no contact with him during the night.

Gueant said the suspect, who claims ties to al-Qaida, has expressed a desire to die with "weapons in hand."

Media reports say several loud explosions have been heard near the building where Merah has been holed up since early Wednesday.

The Frenchman of Algerian origin is accused of murdering a rabbi and three children - ages four, five and seven - at the Jewish school in Toulouse Monday before driving off on a motorcycle. French police say the alleged shooter used the same gun to kill three French soldiers of African and French Caribbean origin last week in Toulouse and a nearby town.

Two police officers have been wounded in earlier attempts to storm the Toulouse house where the suspect is holed up. Officials say Merah initially told authorities he would surrender Wednesday evening.

Interior Minister Gueant says police are determined to take him alive.

Gueant says the suspect was angry about French military intervention abroad, and said he wanted to avenge Palestinian children killed in the Middle East. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad denounced the killings, saying it is time for criminals to stop using the Palestinians to justify their cause.

Police say they received a tip from a Yamaha dealer in Toulouse who said he remembered that a young man had asked to have an antitheft device removed from a motorbike. Authorities say it was the same kind used in the recent murders.

U.S. President Barack Obama called French President Nicolas Sarkozy while aboard Air Force One en route to Nevada. A White House statement says President Obama expressed his solidarity with President Sarkozy and the government and people of France. The statement said President Obama underscored that the American people stand shoulder to shoulder with "our French allies and friends in this trying time."

During a funeral for two of the paratroopers in Montauban, north of Toulouse, President Sarkozy said the slain soldiers were victims of "terrorist executions." He added that the suspected gunman will fail in his attempt to divide the country.

Far right political leader Marine Le Pen lashed out against "Islamic fundamentalism" in an interview on Israeli radio Wednesday.

The bodies of the rabbi and three children were buried Wednesday in Israel.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.

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