Charred body found in Austrian hunt for gunman who killed three police officers and emergency worker

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Heavily armed suspect had been arrested during Monday night but escaped in a stolen police car

Austrian police hunting for a gunman who killed four people - including three police officers - before barricading himself in a farm building have found the charred body of the suspected gunman.

The body was discovered in a concealed cellar behind a hidden door in one of the buildings the  gunman had holed himself up in, according to regional police spokesman Roland Scherscher.

The body was found after the gunman shot dead three police officers and an emergency worker before barricading himself in the building near Melk, 40 miles west of Vienna.

The body is yet to be officially identified but police said they believe it to be that of the gunman, who apparently set himself on fire.

Police "had to push against the wall to enter the room," Mr Scherscher said.

Because "the perpetrator could have been hiding behind each corner," the search took more than four hours as police cautiously combed through the two storey building.

Swat teams and police armed with machine-guns had earlier surrounded the farmhouse in Melk, where the suspect had barricaded himself in.

Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck said two policemen and the driver of an emergency rescue vehicle were killed overnight in the nearby town of Annaberg.

Another officer who had been missing was found dead in his patrol car, he said.

During the 12-hour stand-off, he shot sporadically at heavily armed police. Police said he fired the last shot about an hour before helmeted officers wearing body armour and carrying assault rifles piled into three Austrian army tanks and moved in. More than 100 police officers cordoned off the area.

Austrian media said the man was a suspected poacher. Police named the suspect as 55-year-old Alois Huber, owner of a trucking firm.

The killings began about 24 hours before the suspect barricaded himself, after police stopped the man on a road near a wilderness area west of Vienna where there has been frequent poaching.

The gunman fled in his car, which landed in a ditch near the central Austrian town of Annaberg, then shot and wounded a member of Austria's Cobra SWAT team at a police checkpoint, said Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck. The police officer later died.

An ambulance raced to the scene, but the gunman shot and killed its driver as he tried to give first aid to the wounded policeman. The gunman also shot and wounded another officer at the scene. Mr Grundboeck said he was expected to recover.

The attacker then fatally shot another police officer at a roadblock before barricading himself in the farm building .

Later yesterday, another officer who had been missing was found shot dead in his patrol car near the farm, said Mr Grundboeck.

Mr Scherscher said that officer was apparently killed after the suspect carjacked the police vehicle and took him hostage.

Mr Scherscher said he could not confirm an Austrian media report that the suspect was shot in the abdomen by police before he sought refuge inside the farm building.

The provincial government of Lower Austria ordered black flags flown from all public buildings in honour of the victims.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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