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Crime

Toulouse siege continues as victims remembered

France's Nicholas Sarkozy and his main presidential rival Socialist Francois Hollande have attended the funeral for three paratroopers as police in Toulouse besiege the man accused of also killing four Jewish residents.

The three paratroopers were gunned down last week near their southern French barracks in Montauban where incumbent President Sarkozy, Hollande and other election candidates paid their respects.

The four - three Jewish children and a teacher - were gunned down on Monday by a motorcyclist in adjacent Toulouse. They were also given funeral rites on Wednesday in Jerusalem.

Sarkozy told mourners at the barracks funeral that the soldiers were victims of a "terrorist execution" and whatever their ethnic origins or creed the murders had "hit" the French Republic. "These crimes will not go unpunished," Sarkozy said.

French electoral candidates standing in line at Montauban funeral for the three soldiers killed last week. Pictured are (From L to 2nd R): Francois Hollande, Socialist party candidate for the 2012 French presidential election, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Debout La Republique group candidate for the 2012 French presidential election, Francois Bayrou, MoDem party candidate for the 2012 French presidential election, an unidentified man, Marine Le Pen, France's National Front head and far right candidate for 2012 French presidential election, Europe Ecologie-Les Verts Green Party's Senator Esther Benbassa and Eva Joly, Europe Ecologie-Les Verts Green Party candidate for the 2012 French presidential election. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Hollande, left, and other candidates at paratroopers' funeral

"These soldiers are our own soldiers. These children are our children," Sarkozy said referring to the victims of Monday's shooting outside a Jewish school.

The three dead soldiers were French citizens of North African origin.

Sarkozy, Hollande and eight other candidates are a month away from France's presidential election. Surveys in recent months had shown the Socialist Hollande in a clear lead.

Stand-off in Toulouse

As the funeral proceeded police maintained their siege outside a four-storey building in a Toulouse suburb, where the 23-year-old suspect was holed up.

Authorities have identified him as a self-confessed Islamist militant named as Mohamed Merah. Friends and his defense lawyer said he was "courteous" but had a record of petty crime.

Earlier Wednesday, the suspect wounded two policemen as the siege began.

French CRS police block a street during a raid on a house to arrest a suspect in the killings of three children and a rabbi on Monday at a Jewish school, in Toulouse March 21, 2012. About 300 police, some in bullet-proof body armour, cordoned off an area surrounding an apartment in a Toulouse neighbourhood in southwestern France, where the 24-year-old Muslim man was holed up. Shots were heard in the early hours of the morning, and police said three officers had been slightly wounded. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier (FRANCE - Tags: CRIME LAW CIVIL UNREST)

Police block off streets near Toulouse siege

Interior Minister Claude Gueant said Merah, a French citizen of Algerian origin, had made two visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan. French intelligence had had Merah under observation for "several years" as a follower of the Salafist ideology in Toulouse, Gueant said. His ministerial spokesman denied several television reports mid-afternoon on Wednesday that Merah had been arrested.

Suspect trained in Waziristan, says prosecutor

Prosecutor Francois Molins, France's chief anti-terror prosecutor, said police had found a video camera believed to have been used by the assailant during the attacks. Investigators were currently examining its contents.

"He has boasted about bringing France to its knees," Molins said, adding that Merah had intended to kill more victims.

Molins added that the suspect had told police at the scene that he had been trained by al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region of Waziristan - a haven for Islamist insurgents.

Inside Afghanistan, Afghan police had detained him at a checkpoint and handed him over to the US army "who put him on the first plane headed to France," Molins told reporters.

Earlier, Interior Minister Gueant said the suspect "wanted revenge for the Palestinian children and he also wanted to take revenge on the French army because of its foreign interventions."

Hilltop funeral in Jerusalem

In Jerusalem, mourners attended a hilltop funeral for the Toulouse school shooting victims.

Mourners stand around the bodies of the victims of Monday's shooting in Toulouse during their joint funeral service in Jerusalem March 21, 2012. A gunman, suspected of killing three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in the name of al Qaeda, said on Wednesday he would hand himself over to police after an hours-long siege in which he wounded three officers. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

Funeral for Toulouse shooting victims in Jerusalem

A plane from Paris had arrived earlier carrying their bodies as well as French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and around 50 friends and relatives of the four victims.

Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, a 30-year-old Frenchman, was killed along with his two sons Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 4, and 7-year-old Myriam Monsonego. The children all held dual French-Israeli citizenship.

Juppe said France was committed to fighting such terrorism. "It's a threat for you, it's a threat for us and I think for the world," he said, adding that "an attack on a Jew in France is not only an issue for French Jews, … Anti-Semitism is against all French values."

In his eulogy, Israeli parliament speaker Reuven Rivlin said the Jewish people "once again find themselves facing beasts ... driven out of their minds by hatred."

Link to gunman via scooter

Investigators were apparently able to track down the suspect by identifying his brother's Internet address and then tracing a for-sale advertisement on the Internet for a scooter.

A Toulouse scooter dealer quoted by the news agency AFP said he noticed in video footage shown him by police that the scooter used during Monday's attack near the school had been partially repainted.

A young customer, while visiting a few days earlier, had "mentioned in an off-hand way that he had just taken apart his scooter to repaint it," said Christian Dellacherie.

"I gave them the first and last names of the young man, which we had had in our database since he was 14 years old," Dellacherie said.

ipj/dfm (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)