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Besieged Toulouse Gunman Boasted He Brought France To Its Knees

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I am surprised he was able to evade authorities so successfully.

Besieged Toulouse gunman boasted he brought France to its knees

National Post Wire Services Mar 21, 2012 – 2:53 PM ET


TOULOUSE — A besieged gunman suspected of shooting dead seven people in the name of al-Qaeda boasted to police on Wednesday he had brought France to its knees and said his only regret was not having been able to carry out his plans for more killings.

In an unfolding drama that has riveted France, about 300 police, some in body armour, cordoned off a five-storey building in a suburb of Toulouse where the 23-year-old Muslim shooter, identified as Mohamed Merah, is holed up.

Authorities said the gunman, a French citizen of Algerian origin, had been to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he claimed to have received training from al-Qaeda.

Merah told police negotiators he had killed three French soldiers last week and four people at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and because of the French army’s involvement in Afghanistan.

“He has no regrets, except not having more time to kill more people and he boasts that he has brought France to its knees,” Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins, part of the anti-terrorist unit leading the investigation, told a news conference.

The gunman, who filmed his killings with a small camera, had already identified another soldier and two police officers he wished to kill, Molins said. The gunman had repeated promises to surrender this evening to members of the elite RAID unit surrounding the house, which had been evacuated of its other residents.

“He has explained that he is not suicidal, that he does not have the soul of a martyr and that he prefers to kill but to stay alive himself,” Molins said.


Molins said that police had found a camera that could have been used to film the grisly attacks: “A camera was indeed found in a bag which he had given to an acquaintance to look after.”

Police also claim to have found the scooter allegedly used by Merah and are looking for a car that may contain weapons, Molins added.

It was also revealed Wednesday that the U.S. army sent Merah back to France after he was arrested in Afghanistan. Afghan police detained the man at a road checkpoint and handed him over to the U.S. army “who put him on the first plane headed to France,” Molins said.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is running for re-election in five weeks time, paid tribute at a ceremony in an army barracks in Montauban, near Toulouse, to the three soldiers of North African origin killed last week. A fourth soldier of Caribbean origin is in a coma.

“Our soldiers have not died in the way for which they had prepared themselves. This was not a death on the battlefield but a terrorist execution,” Sarkozy said, standing before three coffins draped in the French flag after paying his respects to bereaved relatives.


Getty Images

Members of the press look on whilst police officers and response teams surround Mohammed Merah's property.

“We must remain united. We should in no way yield to discrimination or vengeance,” he said in his eulogy. “France can only be great in unity. We owe it to the memory of these men, we owe it to the three murdered children, to all the victims.”

Sarkozy’s appeal for national unity came after far-right leader Marine Le Pen, a rival presidential candidate, said France should wage war on Islamic fundamentalism.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant said Merah was a member of an ideological Islamic group in France but this organisation was not involved in plotting any violence.

He said Merah had thrown a Colt 45 pistol of the kind used in all the shootings out of a window of the block of flats, where he has been living, in exchange for a mobile phone, but was still armed.

Two police officers were injured in a firefight with the gunman after police swooped at 3 a.m. local time (0200 GMT).

Police sources said they had conducted a controlled explosion of the suspect’s car at around 9:00 a.m. (0800 GMT) after discovering it was loaded with weapons. Officials said police had also arrested Merah’s girlfriend and his brother, who is also known to authorities as a radical Islamist.



French President Nicolas Sarkozy © flanked by Defense Minster Gerard Longuet (2ndL) and Prime Minister Francois Fillon ®, faces soldiers as he takes part in a ceremony in homage to thee three French paratroopers who were killed by a man at the centre of a siege in Toulouse.


Gueant said Merah had contacted the first soldier he attacked on the pretext of wanting to buy his motorcycle.

Investigators identified the IP address he used – that of his mother – because he was already under surveillance for radical Islamist beliefs.

“We knew, and that is why he was under surveillance, that he had travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the minister said.

Merah’s telephone was tapped from Monday and with the help of other information the police decided to raid his house. Merah has a criminal record in France, Gueant said, but nothing indicating such an attack was possible.

A police source told Reuters that investigators had also received a tipoff from a scooter repair shop in Toulouse where the gunman asked to change the colour of the Yamaha scooter used to flee the shootings and to remove a GPS tracker device.

A group of young men from Merah’s neighbourhood described him as a polite man of slight build who liked football and motorbikes and did not seem particularly religious.


Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Mourners and Israeli Zaka Volunteers gather around the bodies of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, and his children Gabriel, 4, Arieh, 5, and Miriam Monsonego, 7, victims of Toulouse, France school shooting two days ago, during their funeral on March 21, 2012 in Jerusalem, Israel.

“He isn’t the big bearded guy that you can imagine, you know the cliche,” said Kamal, who declined to give his family name. “When you know a person well you just can’t believe they could have done something like this.”

Sarkozy had been informed of the standoff early in the morning, officials said. The president’s handling of the crisis could be a decisive factor in determining how the French people vote in the two-round presidential elections in April and May.

The Jewish victims from the Ozar Hatorah school were buried in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Parliament speaker Reuben Rivlin said in his eulogy at the hill-top cemetery that the attack was inspired by “wild animals with hatred in their hearts”.

Authorities said on Tuesday that the gunman had apparently filmed his rampage through the school with a camera strapped to his body. He wounded Rabbi Jonathan Sandler as he entered the building, then shot an 8-year-old girl in the head, before returning to kill Sandler and his two children, who had rushed to his side, at point blank range.


Hadrei Haredim/Getty Images

Family tragedy: Arieh, Jonathan and Gabriel Sandler were all killed in the shooting outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, France.

Immigrants and Islam have been major themes of the campaign after Sarkozy tried to win over the voters of Le Pen, who accused the government on Wednesday of underestimating the threat from fundamentalism.

“We must now wage this war against these fundamentalist political and religious groups that are killing our children, that are killing our Christian children, our Christian young men, young Muslim men and Jewish children,” she told the i-Tele news channel, questioning the decision to deploy in Afghanistan.

But leaders of the Jewish and Muslim communities said the gunman was a lone extremist.

France’s military presence in Afghanistan has divided the two main candidates in the election. Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande has said he will pull them out by the end of this year while Sarkozy aims for the end of 2013.

With files from AFP and Reuters


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This is screwed up. He grabbed the girl by her hair and reloaded his gun before shooting her.

Barbara Kay: Merah may have hunted alone, but he was no lone wolf

Barbara Kay

In the immediate aftermath of the recent bloodbath executed by Mohamed Merah in Toulouse, leaving three French paratroopers, a Jewish teacher, his two sons and another Jewish child dead, a number of observers were quick to label Merah a “psychopath” and a “lone wolf.”

Even though he claimed to be working for al-Qaeda, his words were brushed away as the delusions of an irrational obsessive. Friends of Merah said his Algerian background in France had alienated him and that he eventually “snapped.” His lawyer said he was completely cut off from reality.

Yesterday the French police charged Merah’s brother Abdelkader with involvement in the crimes. If the charges hold water when tested, that would handily deflate the theory of crazed spontaneity on the killer’s part and, hopefully, embarrass the pundits who leaped to deny any direct link between the killer’s actions and a well-known strain of Islamic revanchism.

In my experience, the words “lone wolf” are code for a warning: If you interpret such horrific events as the work of a sane man under the influence of radical Islamism, you will be considered an Islamophobe. Major Nidal Hasan, who perpetrated the 2010 Fort Hood massacre, was also hastily labelled a lone wolf, a man responding to idiopathic urges, in order to pre-empt accusations that his rage was directly linked to Islamism. As it turned out, even though his actions themselves were not dictated by specific orders from al-Qaeda or any other terrorist organization, Hasan’s rage against those he identified as enemies of Islam did not spring from psychological derangement, but from a long marination in jihadist propaganda. And so, it would seem, is the case with Mohamed Merah — he may not have been acting as part of an organized group or within a larger plot, but he was very much a product of the modern European jihad machine.

Ignorant of Merah’s personal background, I was at first inclined to take the lone-wolf theorists at their word. Then my knowledge gap was filled in by an op ed in the March 25 Wall Street Journal by Jytte Klausen, a professor of politics at Brandeis University and author of the 2009 book, The Cartoons that shook the world. Klausen is also the founder of the Western Jihadism Project, which tracks and analyzes the development of jihadi networks in the West.

According to Klausen’s article, entitled “France’s jihadist shooter was no lone wolf,” Merah’s rampage was not the product of an unhinged mind. Far from being alienated, Klausen writes, “Merah was practically a prince in French jihadist circles.” His mother is married to the father of Sabri Essid, a senior member of a radical Toulouse cell. Essid helped run an al-Qaeda safe house in Syria for jihadists in transit to Iraq. He and several others were eventually convicted in France for conspiracy to terrorize.

Klausen says that according to Le Monde, Merah was trained in killing by the Uzbek Islamic Movement. For this and other grounds for suspicion, Merah was under periodic surveillance by the French police.

The murders were engineered for maximal publicity. Nothing was random or unplanned. It was performance theatre at its most gruesome. Self-videoed, the graphic spree was intended for global viewing on multiple websites. At one point Merah can be seen holding his young victim by her hair as he reloads his gun, after which he calmly shoots her. His martyr’s death — flinging himself out the window while being mowed down in a hail of bullets — followed “the jihadist textbook.”

Like other modern terrorists, Merah was addicted to the Internet (and media in general: Klausen notes that two hours before the police came to his apartment, Merah called a French TV station). One of his last tweets said (in French), “I have changed my life … on video.” His Twitter account ID has a black knight on a horse bearing the flag of jihad aloft. (His Facebook and YouTube accounts have been removed).

Merah’s last tweet was signed “Mohamed Merah-Forsane Alizza.” Forsane Alizza refers to “Knights of Glory,” a France-based jihadist media organization, banned in January because their members were found to be in training for armed combat. The ban has been ineffective in quashing their marketing; content has been put on new sites and a website bearing the Forsane Alizza brand is still active through a Web hosting company based in Washington state.

All this information effectively rebuts any assumption that Merah’s meticulously planned, coolly executed crime was a freak aberration from normalcy, a case of social alienation run amok, or an outcome of mental illness. Mohamed Merah may have hunted alone, but he killed in the shadow of the wolf pack who suckled and trained him.

National Post



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