A self-proclaimed al-Qaeda militant died in a hail of bullets on Thursday as he jumped out of an apartment window at the end of a 32-hour siege in southern France.

Mohamed Merah, the main suspect in a wave of shootings that killed seven people, had tried to blast his way out of the siege in the city of Toulouse after members of an elite force known as RAID entered his flat.

But Interior Minister Claude Gueant said the 23-year-old had been found dead on the ground in a dramatic end to the lengthy standoff.

“The killer came out from the bathroom shooting very violently. The bursts of gunfire were frequent and hard,” said Mr. Gueant. “A RAID officer who is used to this kind of thing told me that he had never seen such a violent assault.

“RAID officers of course tried to protect themselves, to return fire, and then in the end, Mohamed Merah jumped out of the window with a gun in his hand, continuing to fire. He was found dead on the ground.”

Merah had been holed up since Tuesday night after being tracked down by police as the main suspect in a wave of shootings that killed seven people, including three soldiers and three Jewish children.

Mr. Gueant had earlier said police had lost contact with Merah but that he had told authorities he wanted “to die weapons in hand”.

Prosecutors said Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian descent, had fought off several police assaults on the flat on Wednesday and bragged to negotiators of having been trained by al-Qaeda on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

“He expressed no regret apart from not having had enough time to kill more victims and even boasted of having brought France to its knees,” France's chief anti-terror prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters on Wednesday.

Officials had said Merah was armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Mini-Uzi submachine pistol and a collection of handguns.

He claimed to be avenging Palestinian deaths and opposing the French military's involvement in Afghanistan and France's ban on full-face veils. “Mohamed Merah explained that he belonged to al-Qaeda. He explained he had been trained by al-Qaeda in the Pakistani-Afghanistan region in Waziristan,” Mr. Molins told reporters in Toulouse, scene of two of the shootings. Mr. Molins said the suspect had gone to the region twice and on one occasion had been arrested by Afghan police and handed over to U.S. army troops, who put him on a flight back to France. Sources said the suspect had been known to the domestic security service for some years. — AFP