Frame grab provided March 21, 2012, by French TV station France 2 shows Mohammad Merah, the suspect in the killing of 3 paratroopers, 3 children and a rabbi in France. (AP/France 2)
(CBS/AP) TOULOUSE, France - The French Interior minister says Mohammed Merah, the prime suspect in seven murders in and around Toulouse, died Thursday morning in a jump from an apartment window after "shooting madly" at police who raided the building.
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said police entered the apartment Thursday after hearing nothing from Merah overnight, only to be ambushed by the suspect who emerged shooting from a bathroom.
He jumped out the window during the ensuing firefight and, "was found dead on the ground."
The gunman had boasted of bringing France "to its knees" with an al Qaeda-linked terror spree that killed seven people before taking refuge in the surrounded apartment for a 32 hour standoff.
Riot police set a series of three large explosions outside the apartment building, and then gunfire was heard and there were reports that gas was fired into the apartment to try and subdue the suspect before the special operations officers entered the building for the raid which ended with Merah's death and three police officers injured, one of them seriously.
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said earlier in the morning, before the explosions and gunfire, that it was "unclear" whether the suspect was even still alive. He had not contacted negotiators since Wednesday night, raising suspicions that he may have committed suicide.
Hundreds of heavily armed police, some in body armor, surrounded the five-story building in Toulouse where Merah had been holed up since the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday.
Authorities said the shooter, a French citizen of Algerian descent, had been to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he claimed to have received training from al Qaeda.