The 23-year-old Franco-Algerian man suspected of killing seven people, including three Jewish school children, admitted he had refused orders by al-Qaeda to carry out a suicide attack, a top French official said on Wednesday.

The suspect, Mohamed Merah, made the admission to police negotiators during the 20-hour-plus police stand-off in Toulouse that continued well past midnight into Thursday, according to Interior Minister Claude Gueant in remarks broadcast on French television TF1.

Gueant said that Merah divulged to police negotiators that during his travels to Pakistan or Afghanistan, his al-Qaeda contacts proposed a suicide mission to be carried out in France. But Merah refused, and agreed rather to accept an order to carry out killings without endangering himself, Gueant said.

Gueant also said that Merah had been interrogated by intelligence agents in November about his travels to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that he had explained that the trips were for pleasure, not criminal activity. “He explained, with the use of photographs as evidence, that it was a tourist trip,” Gueant said. - Sapa-dpa