Toulouse massacre aftermath

This video from France is called Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah dead, jumps to his death in hail of bullets.

By Alex Lantier in France:

Questions emerge over police handling of Toulouse, France killings

24 March 2012

Details emerging about Mohamed Merah, the alleged gunman in a series of murders in the Toulouse area from March 11 to March 19, raise serious questions about the conduct of French intelligence and police agencies.

Merah allegedly killed one paratrooper in Toulouse on March 11, two paratroopers in nearby Montauban on March 15, and a father and several children at a Jewish school in Toulouse on March 19. He was killed in an armed standoff with police at his Toulouse apartment Thursday, shot in the head by a sniper as he fell from his balcony.

Officials are scrambling to explain how Merah—though known to both French intelligence (DCRI, Central Directorate of Internal Intelligence) and to police—operated undetected for over a week, and why he was killed in the operation.

Speaking to Europe1 radio Thursday, Foreign Minister Alain Juppé admitted: “I understand why one would ask if there was an error or not. As I do not know whether there was an error, I cannot tell you what type of error, but we must shed light on this.”

Christian Prouteau, the founder of the GIGN (Intervention Group of the National Gendarmerie), a counterterrorism squad that rivals the elite police unit that killed Merah, criticized the assault yesterday. He said he was surprised that the standoff ended in Merah’s death: “How is it that the best police unit cannot arrest a lone man? They could have hit him with tear gas. Instead they threw armfuls of grenades at him. The result was that the criminal was put in a psychological state to continue his ‘war.’”

He added: “It may appear presumptuous, but in 64 GIGN operations under my command, there was not a single fatality.” Echoing comments by local Toulouse police, Prouteau asked why police did not simply wait in ambush outside Merah’s apartment and detain him as he left; this technique is apparently used often against Basque nationalists and mafia operatives.

These questions arose as incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy seeks to exploit the tragedy to push for wide-ranging police state powers, and to burnish his law-and-order credentials for next month’s presidential elections.

A recent CSA poll taken after the shootings showed Sarkozy increasing his vote, winning 30 percent of the vote in the first round of the elections versus 28 percent for Socialist Party (PS) candidate François Hollande. Hollande is still expected to win the second round of the elections, however, due to Sarkozy’s unpopularity outside the UMP’s voter base.

In a televised speech Thursday, Sarkozy called for “criminal punishment” of anyone reading internet sites that promote “terrorism” or “hatred,” traveling abroad for “indoctrination,” defending “extremist ideologies,” or promoting them inside prisons. Such proposals, couched in such broad terms as to allow the state to criminalize virtually any oppositional politics, trample basic constitutional rights of free speech and travel.

Magistrates Union official Marie-Blanche Régnier said Sarkozy’s call was a “political maneuver.” She rhetorically asked whether he would include Marine Le Pen, the neo-fascist candidate whose voters Sarkozy has aggressively wooed with anti-immigrant rhetoric, on the list of “extremists.”

Under conditions in which the PS, the Communist Party (PCF), and the New Anti-capitalist Party are not challenging Sarkozy’s calls for “national unity,” most objections to the investigations have come from police and security specialists. However, the details that have surfaced already make clear that, if Merah was indeed the killer, he was able to carry out the murders only due to a remarkable breakdown of French police and intelligence operations.

Given the immense political stakes in Sarkozy’s exploitation of the shootings, it is only logical to ask whether there is any connection between this breakdown of intelligence and Sarkozy’s attempt to save his chances in the upcoming elections.

Shortly after the March 15 Montauban killings, officials were already saying they were exploring “all possible suspects” in the murders. According to the daily Libération, when on March 19 Toulouse police provided investigators with a list of Islamist “radicals” in the Toulouse area, it had only six names on it, and Merah’s was at the top of the list. Merah was therefore well known to police.

After the Montauban killings, however, Merah was apparently not identified—even though his mother’s IP address was on a police list of computers that had been in contact with the March 11 victim. This list was examined carefully by investigators, and it eventually played a role in Merah’s capture. However, investigators apparently did not cross-check this list with the list of Islamists until Monday the 19, after the killings at the Ozar Hatoreh school.

Defense expert François Heisbourg told Libération, “There are only a few dozen Frenchmen who have traveled to Afghanistan, and only a few units in the Midi-Pyrénées region [around Toulouse]. One wonders why no one paid more attention to him! One can perhaps understand this before the Toulouse and Montauban killings—it’s surprising, but not shocking. But afterwards? This means that either the agencies involved are completely out of cash, or they are not doing their job.”

He added, “I am puzzled when I hear the Paris and Toulouse prosecutors explain that they did not have the suspect’s address. It seems the Central Directorate of Internal Intelligence (DCRI) interrogated him in the autumn and concluded he was not dangerous. How did they contact him if they did not have his address?”

Heisbourg also raised questions about Merah’s training as a gunman, apparently acquired during a couple of trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan, though he spent most of his time working as a mechanic: “This ‘lone wolf’ acted in ways the most experienced mafiosi do not dare attempt. He ran his operation himself, and carried out the killings with an unprecedented degree of cold calculation and absence of hysteria. Even the September 11 terrorists were more unnerved. He has therefore received absolutely first-rate training. Who trained him and how?”

Indeed, some questions remain as to whether Merah in fact was the killer. He did not resemble the description given by witnesses at the Montauban shooting, who spoke of a corpulent figure with tattoos and a scar on the left cheek. By contrast, Merah was thin and had no facial markings.

Civil rights groups have warned that the French president’s plan to jail people who visit “extremist” websites directly threatens freedom of expression and information: here.

The Toulouse killings and racism in France: here.

4 thoughts on “Toulouse massacre aftermath

  1. Spotlight on French security ‘failures’

    Karen Kissane

    March 24, 2012

    FRENCH intelligence agencies have come under attack following revelations that the Toulouse killer trained by al-Qaeda had been on a US no-fly list and had a brother linked to a group that sent fighters to a jihadi network in Iraq.

    Mohammed Merah, who was killed while firing a barrage of bullets at police, was also reported to have forced a teenager to watch videos of al-Qaeda hostage beheadings. The boy’s mother said that when she filed a legal complaint, Merah attacked her with a sword, putting her in hospital for several days. She insisted that police took no action.

    Merah, a 23-year-old petty criminal, killed four people at a Jewish school this week after killing three soldiers the week before. His rampages are expected to have a powerful impact on the French presidential election due in five weeks, with issues of race and immigration already on the agenda.

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy has promised tough new laws against watching atrocity videos and travelling overseas for terror training or indoctrination. …

    Prime Minister Francois Fillon said yesterday Merah ‘‘seems to have acted alone’’. Police continued to hold his mother, brother and brother’s girlfriend.

    The European Union’s top anti-terrorism expert estimated Europe had about 400 lone-wolf extremists trained by al-Qaeda. Most were in ‘‘Germany, France, Britain; maybe also Belgium, and in all other EU countries to a much lesser extent’’, EU counterterrorism co-ordinator Gilles de Kerchove said. He said lone operators had become more common because al-Qaeda’s structures in Europe had been weakened over the past four years.

    A spokesman for Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande accused authorities of having failed in their surveillance of Merah. ‘‘In the United States, a commission of inquiry would have been set up without any question to see if there is a problem,’’ said Bruno LeRoux. ‘‘Expressing ideas is not enough to bring someone before justice.’’

    Socialist MP Jean-Pierre Chevenement, a former defence and interior minister, said the killings were a warning for services in charge of anti-terrorism and questioned whether Merah could have acted alone: ‘‘Too many arms, too many trips, too much money.’’
    An al-Qaeda-linked group called Jund al-Khilafah claimed responsibility for Merah’s attacks, saying its ‘‘Islamic warrior’’ had taken revenge for French hostility to Muslims and that Israel’s ‘‘crimes will not go unpunished’’.

    French officials said they had no reason to focus on him because he had never been known to have links with a violent Islamic group, nor were his trips to Afghanistan or Pakistan with an Islamic network. ‘‘He managed to get there on his own,’’ said Francois Molins, chief prosecutor in Paris. ‘‘He is not typical.’’

    Interior Minister Claude Gueant said Merah had been watched for several years but had never shown signs of preparing criminal acts.

    But as recently as November Merah had been questioned by the French Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence. He told it he had been a tourist when he was arrested by Afghan police in 2010 in Kandahar. French authorities had also alerted Spain when Merah was planning to go to the Costa Brava to meet Islamist activists.

    Authorities believe Merah and his brother Abdelkader, who was arrested on Wednesday, were involved with an Islamist organisation known as the Toulouse group, which brought together young fundamentalists of North African descent. It had the stated aim of targeting US interests in France and sending recruits to Iraq.

    A source familiar with the US ‘‘no-fly list’’ told Reuters that security officials would have had to assess Merah as being capable of bringing down a plane in flight in order to include him.

    Le Monde reported that Merah had trained and fought in the Afghan-Pakistan border with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and that he might have visited Syria, Iraq and Jordan. He is thought to be one of about 150 Islamists who have left Western Europe to fight in Afghanistan over the past five years.

    Merah’s indoctrination is believed to have begun during an 18-month stint in jail, where he tried to commit suicide and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.


  2. Police swoop on Islamists

    FRANCE: President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that police detained 19 people in cities around France on Friday in a crackdown “in connection with a form of Islamist radicalism” with more raids planned.

    Mr Sarkozy gave no details of the justifications for the arrests, or what specifically the detainees are suspected of.

    “There will be other operations that will continue and that will allow us to expel from our national territory a certain number of people who have no reason to be here,” he said.


  3. Pingback: Was Merah the Toulouse murderer? | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: Sarkozy’s Bettencourt scandal | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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