Apr 20, 2014, 7:03 am (BST)
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France defends operation to catch gunman
PARIS, March 24 (BSS/AFP) - France's interior minister has launched a robust defence of the police as criticism grows of the operation that ended in the dramatic death of a gunman who killed seven people, three of them children.

Already under pressure over accusations that intelligence
failures allowed Mohamed Merah to carry out three deadly attacks
before being tracked down, police also face questions over the
raid that ended in his death on Thursday.

Merah murdered three Jewish children, a trainee rabbi and
three soldiers in three separate gun attacks between March 11 and
March 19 in the southwestern city of Toulouse, shocking France in
the build-up to presidential elections.

On Thursday France's most-wanted man tried to shoot his way
out of his apartment after a 32-hour police siege that ended in
his death.

There is fierce speculation about the 23-year-old's motives
and if he had any accomplices. He had claimed to be an Al-Qaeda
member who killed to avenge Palestinian children and punish
France for sending troops to Afghanistan.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant told Saturday's Le Figaro
that Merah was a "terrorist acting alone".

"It's the first time that France has been confronted with
this particular type of action", he said, dismissing as
"irresponsible" criticism of the police and in particular the
operation that ended in his death.

There were hopes the gunman would be taken alive so that he
could be put on trial. France is home to western Europe's largest
Jewish and Muslim communities.

But police could not have used tear gas to put Merah to
sleep as that was illegal under international conventions, Gueant

"The men who carried out this operation are very great
professionals...," he added.

And in a swipe at the government's political rivals, he
said: "The left is always saying that we don't do enough and, at
the same time, refusing all the means that would increase the
efficiency of the police."
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