President Nicolas Sarkozy and families of the victims urged television networks Tuesday not to broadcast graphic videos shot by an Islamist extremist killer during his shooting spree in southern France.
Qatar-based Al-Jazeera said it was considering broadcasting the videos — which include footage shot by Mohamed Merah during his attacks that left seven people dead — after they were sent to its Paris bureau on a USB memory key.
French officials also reacted with fury to threats from Merah’s father to sue over his killing in a gunbattle with police last Thursday at the end of a 32-hour siege of his apartment in Toulouse.
And police said they believed the Al-Qaeda inspired gunman, branded a “monster” in France, may have had one or more accomplices who sent the footage to Al-Jazeera and helped him steal the scooter used in the attacks.
Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, had previously boasted of filming his killings and witnesses had told police that he appeared to be wearing a video camera in a chest harness.
“We are not a sensationalist network. We are not looking to broadcast images without measuring the risks and consequences,” Al-Jazeera’s Paris bureau chief, Zied Tarrouche, told French news network BFM-TV.
“This is why management will decide today during a meeting in Qatar whether to broadcast this video or not,” he said.
(TV cameramen film the building where self-professed Al-Qaeda militant Mohamed Merah was living in Toulouse. President Nicolas Sarkozy and families of the victims urged television networks not to broadcast graphic videos shot by the Islamist extremist killer during his shooting spree in southern France. AFP Photo/Jean-Pierre Muller)
Tarrouche said the videos showed the attacks in chronological order and had been edited into a montage.
“There was a mixture of religious music and chants, lectures, and recitals of verses from the Koran,” he said, adding that a letter was included with the USB key that claimed the attacks in the name of Al-Qaeda.
Sarkozy said the videos should not be shown “under any pretext”, the tearful mother of a dead Muslim victim pleaded for them not to be broadcast and the family of a Jewish victim said they would take legal action.
“I call on all managers of all channels not to broadcast them under any pretext, out of respect for the victims and respect for the republic,” Sarkozy said in a speech hailing security forces’ handling of the crisis.
Latifa Ibn Ziaten, the mother of Imed Ibn Ziaten, the first of three French paratroopers gunned down by Merah, told AFP she could not bear the thought of her son’s killing being broadcast.
“I ask them not to show the footage. My son was killed, a 30-year-old child. And people want to show it as if it were a film. Please, I can’t see that,” she said.
“We were about to go to Imed’s grave to mourn. I don’t need this, they don’t have the right to do that, you can’t do that. We’ve suffered enough.”
The family of Jonathan Sandler, a Jewish teacher killed with his two young sons, said it would take legal action to prevent the footage being broadcast.
“We will use all judicial means possible to prevent any broadcast,” the family’s lawyer Patrick Klugman told AFP, urging the media to “respect their pain and their mourning,”
Sarkozy also lashed out at Merah’s father, Mohamed Benalel Merah, for his lawsuit threat.
“It is with indignation that I learned that the father of the killer of seven people… wants to file a suit against France for the death of his son,” Sarkozy said.
And Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said: “If I were the father of such a monster, I would shut my mouth in shame.”
The father had told AFP on Monday he would sue French authorities because they “had the means to take my son alive… they preferred to kill him.”
As police surrounded Merah’s Toulouse apartment last week, the gunman claimed responsibility for all three attacks.
He shot dead three soldiers in two separate attacks in Toulouse and nearby Montauban on March 11 and 15. Last Monday he opened fire at a Jewish school in Toulouse, killing 30-year-old Sandler, his sons aged five and four, and a seven-year-old girl.
Sarkozy, in mid-campaign for re-election, said Monday that French security services would hunt down Islamic extremists in the country following the killings.
On Sunday, the authorities charged the gunman’s brother, 29-year-old Abdelkader Merah, with complicity in the attacks but he denied any involvement.
Abdelkader Merah was charged with helping his sibling steal the powerful Yamaha scooter used in the shootings and police said Tuesday they were seeking a third person who may have been involved in the theft.
Police also said an accomplice must have been involved in mailing the videos to Al-Jazeera because they were sent last Wednesday, when Merah was already under siege, and from outside Toulouse.
French Muslim officials said the family had asked for Merah’s body to be transferred to Algeria for burial.
Merah’s mother Zoulhika Aziri had asked for her son to be buried in Algeria to avoid his grave being desecrated. Other family members had initially opposed this, saying Merah wanted to be buried in France, but Zekri said the entire family was now in agreement.