French police officers work outside Mohamed Merah's apartment, on the left, in Toulouse, France, Thursday, March 22, 2012. Mohamed Merah, who boasted of killing seven people to strike back at France died after being shot in the head by police as he jumped out of his apartment after a fierce gunfight with police, authorities said. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
TOULOUSE, France -- In a dramatic end to a 32-hour standoff, a masked French SWAT team slipped into the apartment of an Islamist extremist Thursday, sparking a firefight that ended with the suspect jumping out the window and being shot in the head.
Mohamed Merah, 23, was wanted in the deaths of three French paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi -- all killed since March 11 in what Merah reportedly told police was an attempt to "bring France to its knees."
Police had been trying to capture him alive since a predawn raid Wednesday to arrest him at his apartment in the southwestern city of Toulouse. The killings he was accused of -- and boasted about to police -- have shocked France, ignited fear in moderate Muslims about stoking discrimination and may even affect the country's upcoming presidential election.
The seven slayings, carried out in three motorcycle shooting attacks, are believed to be the first killings inspired by Islamic radical motives in France since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking in Paris, said an investigation was under way to see if Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent who claimed links to al-Qaida, had any accomplices.
His mother and a brother were detained Wednesday by police after the mother's computer became a critical link in tracking Merah down. The brother Abdelkader had already been linked to Iraqi Islamist networks.
The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors Internet messages, reported Thursday that a lesser-known jihadist group was claiming responsibility for the attacks in France. SITE said Jund al-Khilafah issued a statement saying "Yusuf of France" led an attack Monday, the day of Jewish school shootings. There was no independent confirmation of the claim.
Authorities said Merah espoused a radical form of Islam and had been to Afghanistan and the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan, where he claimed to have received training from al-Qaida. He also had a long record of petty crimes in France for which he served time in prison.
Merah told negotiators he killed to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and to protest the French army's involvement in Afghanistan.
After initially agreeing to surrender, Merah declared he would resist and that it would be either them or him.
"If it's me, who cares? I'll go to paradise," Prosecutor Francois Molins quoted Merah as saying.