French gunman’s brother ‘proud’ of sibling

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, March 24, 2012 10:54 EDT
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French police raid home of Toulouse shooter via AFP
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The older brother of the French gunman who killed seven people said he was “proud” of his sibling and was present when he stole a scooter used to stage three deadly attacks, police said Saturday.

The killer Mohamed Merah’s brother Abdelkader was transferred Saturday along with his girlfriend from the southwestern city of Toulouse to Paris for questioning by anti-terrorist police. Their mother was released without charge late Friday.

Abdelkader Merah, 29, admitted being present when the scooter used in the killings was stolen, even though he had said he knew nothing of his brother’s criminal intentions.

Police and prosecutors have said that he is a radical Islamist and that traces of what could be an explosive material had been found in his car.

Merah and his girlfriend were taken into custody after Mohamed Merah, 23, was killed trying to shoot his way out of an apartment following a 32-hour police siege.

Mohamed Merah had murdered three Jewish children, a trainee rabbi and three soldiers in three separate gun attacks between March 11 and March 19 in and near Toulouse, shocking France in the build-up to a presidential election.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was due to hold an emergency meeting Saturday with Prime Minister Francois Fillon and several ministers to discuss security issues amid criticism of the way police handled the affair.

France’s interior minister has already launched a robust defence of the police amid criticism of the operation that ended in Merah’s dramatic death.

Already under pressure over accusations that intelligence failures allowed to carry out three deadly attacks before being tracked down, police also face questions over the raid that ended in his death on Thursday.

Speculation is rife over the 23-year-old’s motives and whether he had any accomplices. He had claimed to be an Al-Qaeda member who killed to avenge Palestinian children and punish France for sending troops to Afghanistan.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant told Saturday’s Le Figaro that Merah was a “terrorist acting alone.”

“It’s the first time that France has been confronted with this particular type of action,” he said, dismissing as “irresponsible” criticism of the police and in particular the operation that ended in his death.

“The men who carried out this operation are very great professionals,” he added.
Earlier, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said security officials knew that Merah was a radical Islamist who had visited Afghanistan, but had no reason to suspect he was planning attacks.

The intelligence services “did their job perfectly well. They identified Mohamed Merah when he made his trips,” Fillon told French radio on Friday.

Intelligence agents “watched him long enough to come to the conclusion that there was no element, no indication, that this was a dangerous man who would one day pass from words to acts,” Fillon added.

The head of France’s DCRI domestic intelligence agency, Bernard Squarcini, has said there was little more that security services could have done to prevent Merah’s atrocities.

Among those criticising the way the siege ended was a veteran police officer who said the elite RAID unit involved lacked clear tactics.

Christian Prouteau, who founded the GIGN, another elite unit drawn from the national police’s rivals in the gendarmerie, said that if they had used tear gas against Merah they would have had a chance of capturing him alive, drawing a sharp reaction from French police unions.

While holed up, Merah told police that he travelled to Pakistan in 2011, but had been trained by a single individual, not at one of the usual training centres where spies might have reported his presence.

French agents had investigated Merah after his trip to Afghanistan, but found none of the usual danger signs.

“No ideological activism, no visiting mosques,” Squarcini said.

France is home to western Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim communities.

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