French shootings: Calls for probe into ‘failures’
Mohammed Merah had claimed to have al-Qaeda training
23 March 2012 Last updated at 00:30
France is facing calls for an inquiry into possible intelligence failures after a series of murders by a gunman in the south of the country.
Mohammed Merah – who claimed to have al-Qaeda training – was killed by a police sniper in Toulouse on Thursday.
It has now emerged that he had been under surveillance for months and had been on the US no-fly list.
Merah, 23, carried out three separate attacks, killing four people at a Jewish school and three soldiers.
He had said he was acting to “avenge Palestinian children” and protest against French military interventions overseas.
On Thursday French officials admitted that Merah had been followed by intelligence agencies for years.
They said that as recently as November 2011 he was questioned by France’s DCRI domestic intelligence agency to explain his trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Commentators in France and abroad have criticised the intelligence services for failing to track Merah closely enough.
In response, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said: “I understand that people can ask questions whether there were intelligence failures. We need clarity on this.”
Separately, officials in Washington said Merah had been on the US government’s no-fly list, banning him from boarding any aircraft to America.
The unnamed officials added that Merah’s name had been on the list for some time.
Interior Minister Claude Gueant defended intelligence agencies’ record, saying they track many extremists, and such isolated cases were very difficult to defend against.
“These so-called lone wolves are formidable opponents,” he said.
Merah, of Algerian descent, was shot by a police sniper, after he opened fire on police commandos storming his flat after a 32-hour siege on Thursday morning.
The marksman killed Merah as he tried to jump out of the bathroom window, prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters.
“The examination of the body shows that he was shot in the head and that he was wearing a bullet-proof vest, and had a gun covered by a pair of jeans,” Mr Molins said
“Material to make petrol bombs were found on his balcony.”
Mr Molins said a Colt 45 handgun was found next to his body, and he estimated that Merah had fired 30 bullets as the commandos broke in.
The prosecutor also confirmed that Merah had filmed all three of the attacks that he carried out.
Earlier President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a televised address that everything had been done to try to bring Merah to justice, but it was decided that no more lives could be put at risk.
He also vowed a new crackdown on those who visited “hate or terrorism” web sites or travelled abroad to be indoctrinated in terrorism.
The killings took place in and around Toulouse in three separate incidents earlier this month.
On 11 March, a soldier was shot and killed while waiting to see a man about selling his motorcycle.
Days later, two soldiers were shot and killed and a third was wounded while waiting at a cash machine.
Then earlier this week, three children and an adult were shot and killed outside a Jewish school.
Mr Molins said the authorities had recovered videos from Merah’s apartment showing the attacks.
“These films are extremely explicit, as we were able to verify yesterday, in which evidently we see him during his encounter with a soldier who he shot twice, saying to him: ‘You kill my brothers, I kill you’,” said Mr Molins.
“Then we also see him killing the soldiers in Montauban in an extremely violent scene, fleeing on his scooter whilst shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is great].”
Mr Molins said there was also footage of the school massacre, and added that all of Merah’s conversations with negotiators during the siege had been recorded and would be used in the forthcoming inquiry.