The suspect in an al Qaida-linked killing spree has stopped communicating with authorities and might have committed suicide, the French interior minister has said.
As a stand-off between the gunman and hundreds of police entered a second day, Claude Gueant said suspect Mohamed Merah, holed up in a flat in the southern city of Toulouse for more than 30 hours, has not contacted negotiators since Wednesday night.
"We hope that he is still alive," Mr Gueant said, stressing that the authorities' priority is to capture him alive. He said the gunman told negotiators earlier that he wanted to "die with weapons in his hands".
Elite police squads set off sporadic blasts throughout the night and into the morning - some blew off the apartment's shutters - in what officials described as a tactic aimed to pressure 24-year-old Merah to give up.
A new set of detonations, known as flash bangs, resounded early on Thursday morning. Two or three gunshots were heard from the area of the apartment building overnight. The interior minister said the source of the gunshots was unclear.
Authorities say Merah has boasted about carrying out the shootings of three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three French paratroopers in three separate incidents over the last two weeks. They are believed to be the first incidents of killings inspired by Islamic radical motives in France in more than a decade.
Mr Gueant arrived at the scene on Thursday morning, as did silver-helmeted firefighters with first aid materials, including two stretchers.
Police were using their advantages - numbers, firepower and psychological pressure - in the hope of wearing down Merah, who has had no water, electricity, gas or probably sleep, and perhaps no food, since the early hours of Wednesday. French foreign Minister Alain Juppe said: "We still want him alive so he can be tried and so the families can mourn properly."
Authorities said Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent, espoused a radical form of Islam and had been to Afghanistan and the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan, where he claimed to have received training from al Qaida.
He told negotiators he killed a rabbi and three young children at a Jewish school on Monday and three French paratroopers last week to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and to protest against the French army's involvement in Afghanistan, as well as a government ban last year on face-covering Islamic veils.