A gunman suspected of killing three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school wounded three police officers in a shootout at a house in Toulouse, France, early Wednesday and said he was a member of al-Qaida.
Interior Minister Claude Gueant said the man targeted in the raid was a 24-year-old man who had visited Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that he had shot dead the four out of "revenge for Palestinian children." He is also suspected by authorities of having killed three soldiers of North African origin last week.
Police sources told Reuters that another man had been arrested earlier Wednesday at a separate location in connection with the killings.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, campaigning for re-election in a presidential poll in five weeks time, has blamed racism for Monday's school attack. His handling of the crisis could be a decisive factor in determining how the French people vote. France has troops in Afghanistan as part of NATO forces.
"He claims to be a mujahideen and to belong to al-Qaida," Gueant told journalists in Toulouse, referring to the gunman. "He wanted revenge for the Palestinian children and he also wanted to attack the French army because of its foreign intervention."
Gueant, who said Sarkozy had been informed of the raid, did not say how they had tracked the man down.
Officer shot through door
He said that when police arrived at about 3 a.m. local time Wednesday (10 p.m. ET) to raid the house "the wanted individual shot at the door." NBC News reported the police were members of an elite team known as RAID.
One officer was injured in the knee and another officer lightly injured in ensuing exchanges of fire, Gueant said. A third officer was later reported to have been hurt.
Heavily armed police in bullet-proof vests and helmets cordoned off the area where the raid was taking place, in a suburb only about 2 miles from the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school where Monday's shootings took place.
The suspect's mother was brought to the scene to help negotiate with the man, who was holed up in the small apartment building in the leafy neighborhood.
"The suspect's mother... was asked to make contact with her son, to reason with him, but she did not want to, saying she had little influence on him," Gueant said, according to BBC News.
A police source said the police could launch an assault if the standoff lasted for some time. "There are more and more people around, so this creates a dangerous situation," the source said.
The suspect inside the house said that he trained in the Pakistan and Afghanistan and is affiliated with Forca lesa, an Islamic group dismantled by the French government. The group, which recruits young French to join the jihad, is considered to be dangerous.
'No respect for life'
On Tuesday, hundreds of police officers had spread out across southern France in the hunt for the gunman suspected in three deadly attacks.
Authorities suspect the school killer was also behind two recent attacks in the same area on French paratroopers that left three soldiers dead and one seriously wounded. The victims were of North African and French Caribbean backgrounds.
Sarkozy described the killer as a "monster."
"There are beings who have no respect for life. When you grab a little girl to put a bullet in her head, without leaving her any chance, you are a monster. An anti-Semitic monster, but first of all a monster," he said.
Monday's incident was the deadliest school shooting in the country and the bloodiest attack on Jewish targets in decades. Schools across the country held a moment of silence Tuesday to honor the victims, who were heading to Israel for burial.
Gueant described the suspect as "someone very cold, very determined, very much a master of his movements, and by consequence, very cruel."
Copyright 2016 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.