NI students in French city under siege

Published Thursday, 22 March 2012
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A student from Northern Ireland has told UTV that the French city of Toulouse became a "scary place to be" during the siege centred on a suspected serial killer - now confirmed dead by the country's Interior Minister.

NI students in French city under siege
The scene of the siege in Toulouse in southeastern France. (© Getty)

Felicity Cinnamon, from Templepatrick in Co Antrim, is part of a group of seven students from Northern Ireland studying Law at the University of Toulouse and living near the apartment block where Mohammed Merah resided.

Merah, 23, was the prime suspect in the killings of three soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi in three separate incidents over the last two weeks.

Speaking just before the 32-hour siege ended with Merah's death, Felicity told UTV the city was deserted.

"It's quite scary - I have friends living just two streets from where the siege is taking place," she said.

"Every ten minutes, they are sending texts to say there's been another explosion or another gunshot."

An elite police squad had been trying to capture the suspect - a French citizen of Algerian descent, who claimed to have links with al Qaida - alive, but he was cornered in a bathroom and opened fire.

The killer came out of the bathroom, firing with extreme violence ... The police had never seen anything like this kind of violence.

French Interior Minister Claude Gueant

As gunfire rang out, two police officers were wounded before Merah then jumped from a window, gun in hand and still firing. He was found dead on the ground and police say he had been shot by special forces.

The massive manhunt for Merah was sparked by the murders of a soldier on 11 March, two more just days later and then the fatal shooting outside a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday.

Felicity told UTV people in the area had been "shocked and sickened" by the killings.

She described the city as "very diverse", but said she had worried about attending lectures this week as helicopters flew overhead.

Police made the decision to move against Merah after he told them on Wednesday night that he would not surrender and that he would kill them if attempts to arrest him were made.

Sporadic blasts, known as flash bangs, were set off throughout the night and into the morning in what officials described as a tactic aimed at pressurising the suspect into giving up.

According to police, Merah admitted to being proud of the seven shootings - believed to be the first killings inspired by Islamic radical motives in France in more than a decade.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has launched an investigation in a bid to establish if the gunman had any accomplices and warned that those regularly visiting websites supporting terrorism would be punished by the law.

© UTV News
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