TOULOUSE, France -- In a dramatic end to a 32-hour standoff, a French SWAT team slipped into the apartment of an Islamist extremist yesterday, sparking a firefight that ended with the suspect jumping out of a window and being fatally shot in the head.

Mohamed Merah, 23, was wanted in the deaths of three French paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi -- all killed since March 11 in what Merah reportedly told police was an attempt to "bring France to its knees."

Police had been trying to capture him alive since a predawn raid Wednesday to arrest him at his apartment in Toulouse. The killings he was accused of, and boasted about to police, shocked France, ignited fear in moderate Muslims about stoking discrimination, and could affect the upcoming presidential election.

The seven slayings, carried out in three motorcycle shooting attacks, are believed to be the first killings in France inspired by Islamic radical motives since Sept. 11, 2001.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking in Paris, said an investigation was under way to see whether Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent who claimed links to al-Qaida, had any accomplices.

His mother and a brother were detained by police Wednesday after the mother's computer became a critical link in tracking Merah down. The brother, Abdelkader, had already been linked to Iraqi Islamist networks.

The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors Internet messages, reported yesterday that a lesser-known jihadist group was claiming responsibility for the attacks in France. There was no independent confirmation of the claim.

A top counterterrorism official said the claim of responsibility could be "opportunistic," but authorities were looking into it.

Authorities said Merah espoused a radical form of Islam and had been to Afghanistan and the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan, where he claimed to have been trained by al-Qaida. He had a long record of petty crimes in France for which he served time in prison.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said Merah had been on the list of known or suspected terrorists who are prohibited from flying to the United States since 2010.

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