Khaled Kelkal, the most wanted man in France, was killed last night in a shoot-out with police in a village near Lyons after three weeks on the run. His fingerprints had been found on a bomb which failed to explode on the high-speed train line near Lyons last month.
According to police, he opened fire with a pistol after being challenged and ordered to surrender. The police, who had arrived after a tip-off, fired back, killing him. He had been standing at a bus stop in the small town of Maison Blanche, 12 miles west of Lyons.
French television's main evening news programmes were interrupted to broadcast updates from a police spokesman on the spot. The last report showed a body - believed to be that of Kelkal - being taken out of a house and loaded into an ambulance. He had fled from his home three weeks ago after he was named as a suspect and his photograph was published.
According to unconfirmed reports the fingerprints of the Algerian-born suspect, who was 24, were also on a cartridge found after the killing of a senior Muslim cleric, Sheikh Seriouh, in Paris in July. However, Kelkal's name has not been mentioned in connection with the other Paris bombs, including the fatal bombing of the St Michel metro station.
The net had been closing in on Kelkal since Wednesday night. Acting on a tip off from a man who had been gathering mushrooms, police pursued a car that was heading towards the forested area west of Lyons. After a high-speed chase and shoot-out, they apprehended three people, one of whom, named as Karim Khoussa, was badly injured. The fourth, believed to be Kelkal, escaped. Khoussa was said to have engaged the police in a 40-minute shoot-out, successfully covering Kelkal's flight.
Police said they had found a camp site and evidence that two people had been living rough for several weeks using survival techniques. They also found arms, ammunition and something that could be used as a bomb timing device.
The bomb attacks in and around Paris and Lyons in July and August are widely believed to have been carried out by agents of the Algerian fundamentalist Armed Islamic Group, the GIA.
After Kelkal's escape on Wednesday, more than 800 police, GIGN units and troops were deployed in a huge operation to comb the forest and check nearby settlements. The abortive operation was followed up by a sweep yesterday morning on the housing estate where Kalkel lived. Yesterday's evening's operation appears to have been a follow-up exercise.
Kelkal had been wanted since March, when he escaped after a shoot-out near Lyons in which three policemen were injured. But it was with the attempted bombing of the high-speed train line that his trail re-emerged.
By yesterday there was intense pressure on the police to capture Kelkal. Their failure to find him, especially after Thursday's extensive operation, had made them the laughing stock of much of France, which was despairing of having any of the bombers caught.