By Fox News Radio’s Alastair Wanklyn, who was at the siege site in Toulouse, France for the entire standoff between the French gunman and police.
A volley of gunfire startled us. Someone fired back, and then for several minutes the apartment block resounded with rapid gunfire.
French counter-terror officers had lost patience with the al Qaeda gunman. A day earlier, he had apparently pledged to surrender.
Overnight we had heard periodic grenade bursts, but even France’s Interior Minister speculated the gunman was possibly dead.
The killer was a loser, a wannabe soldier. He had been rejected from the French army on account of time spent in jail. Then he tried to join the French Foreign Legion, another branch of the military, but failed to complete training. So he joined al Qaeda.
As the siege unfolded, Mohammed Merah bragged about his terror training in Pakistan. Negotiators were forced to listen to his self-important claims of avenging injustice in the Muslim world.
At first, the killings were low-key and ambiguous: a soldier selling a motorbike, an unobserved shooting. Then two more soldiers, in front of witnesses.
But the world took notice with the cold murder of three children and a teacher at a Jewish school.
Mourners piled bouquets of white flowers at the school gate, and then at a second site higher up the road.
Some were from acquaintances, but many people coming here with messages were apparent strangers.
We could see three security cameras above the school gate. They must have given investigators a good view of the helmeted attacker carrying out his sickening assault.
In fact, the gunman had filmed the massacre himself with a sports-style video camera. Investigators found it among his terror arsenal of weapons and Molotov cocktails.
If he had so many weapons, would he not have struck again? Yes, he told police, he had planned to kill again. But that day they had traced him.
France’s President swiftly pledged to tackle the problem of young idiots like Merah, a known Islamist who despite a dozen criminal convictions and two trips to Pakistan still aroused little notice.
Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to fight al-Qaeda recruitment in France’s jails, and punish those who attend terror training. He said he would try to outlaw the glorification of terror on the internet.
A tough proposition. He could perhaps make it illegal to watch internet al Qaeda videos. That might be hard to enforce, but the pledge shows the depth of France’s outrage, and the scale of Europe’s problem with young radicals.
LISTEN to some of Alastair Wanklyn’s reporting from the scene of the siege: