Toulouse Shooting: Mohammed Merah Named As Suspect

Huffington Post UK  |  By Dina Rickman  |  Posted: 21/03/2012 09:20 Updated: 21/03/2012 12:41

Mohammed Merah
Claude Gueant speaks to the press

A 24-year-old student of Algerian descent suspected of carrying out a series of shooting sprees in France that have killed seven people has been named by police as Mohammed Merah.

French police said the suspect, who is believed to be responsible for killing four people including children at a Jewish school on Monday, has claimed he has al-Qaeda links.

French interior minister Claude Gueant said Merah had said he was fighting to "avenge Palestinian children."

LIVEBLOG: Click here to read the latest updates from the stand-off.

"This person has made trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the past... and says he belongs to al Qaeda and says he wanted to avenge Palestinian children and to attack the French army. He has links with people involved in jihadism and salafism," he said.

Police have arrested the man's brother at a separate location and have also brought his mother to the scene to help the negotiation.

Merah was caught after taking a scooter used at the school shooting to a garage, and through an email he allegedly sent about selling a motorbike.

According to ITV news, the father of his neighbour said Merah was in "trouble".

Reports suggests he has an uzi and kalashnikov.

The BBC reports he already has a criminal record. BFM TV, a French news Channel has claimed the suspect has links an Islamist group which has been banned in France, Forsane Alizza.

Merah called the broadcaster France 24 in the early hours of the morning, the network said.

He said he was connected to Al Qaeda, that what he did marked only "the beginning".

"Merah explained he was against the headscarf ban and was fighting against the French participation to Nato operations in Afghanistan,” said Ebba Kalondo, editor in chief of France 24, who spoke to the suspect, he said.

“The Jews killed our brothers and sisters in Palestine,” he said. The man was calm, talked articulately. He confirmed that all murders had been filmed and that the videos would be posted online.

Sky News reporting "three large bangs" close to surrounded house in Toulouse.

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French authorities have switched off the street lights in district where the suspect, Mohammed Merah, remains besieged.

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HuffPost's Cosima Ungaro takes a closer look at the quiet and unassuming man who appears to have held Toulouse hostage for more than a week.

“He was calm. He went around with his black Clio,” says Dany, said to be a "close friend". “It’s true that he was quite silent these last few days but no one suspected a problem.”

“He never wore a beard, never voiced any antisemitic convictions,” he adds. “If he is the culprit, what he did is unforgivable, it is contrary to all the Koran laws.”

Paris prosecutor, Francois Molins, explained that even at this late stage in France's ordeal Merah has expressed no sadness for what he has wrought.

"He is not expressing any regrets" except maybe "the one of not having killed more victims."

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Israeli relatives mourn during the funeral of victims of the Toulouse school shooting at the Givat Shaun cemetery in Jerusalem on March 21, 2012.

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@ KandaharMediaOf : Security Forces in Kandahar have never detained a French citizen named Mohammad Merah.

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Speaking to reporters Paris prosecutor François Molins said that Mehar didn't have the "soul of a martyr".

He said Mehar just wanted to kill, but didn't want to die for his cause.

Molins, who is overseeing the investigation into the killing of three soldiers in Toulouse, added Mehar was obsessed with watching violent videos such as beheadings online.

"He had said he wanted to give himself up in the afternoon or evening, now it's in the late evening," he said.

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Prosecutor Francois Molins said the US army sent Mohammed Merah back to France after he was detained in Afghanistan.

The US "put him on the first plane" Molins said, according to the Telegraph.

Merah had been to Afghanistan twice, he said, and had trained in Waziristan.

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According to the AFP news agency the suspect Mohammed Merah will surrender 'late this evening'.

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National Front presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has been making political hay out of the tragedy in Toulouse, it has been reported.

Le Pen, who is vehemently immigration, said she thought Mohammed Merah “considered himself a Muslim before being a Frenchman” and said she refused any amalgam between French Islam and 'Islamism'.

She also mentioned that the “fundamentalist risk was underestimated in France,” and that it was necessary to wage a “war” against it.

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The lawyer for Mohammed Merah, the man suspected of killing seven people during a series of shooting sprees in southern France, has spoken of his shock that his client could be involved.

Christian Etelin, who has been defending Merah for eight years, revealed in an interview with BFM TV that his client had always been "polite and sweet", and only ever convicted of petty crimes.

According to the lawyer, the last time Merah had been convicted was on 24 February for an “old story” in which he drove without a valid licence. Merah had been convicted to jail for one month.

Etelin told BFM TV he could have never suspected Merah to commit such “radicalisation, harshness, and absolute terror.”

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Sarkozy said at the memorial for the three soldiers gunned down in Montauban and Toulouse:

"A French soldier is somebody who is prepared to die so that the values of France may live.

"A French soldier knows death and knows how to confront it. ... In March 2012 a man was killed in cold blood... On the 15 March 2012 the murderer, we know it was the same person, took as his target three soldiers... The deaths that these men met was not one they had prepared themselves for. ... it was a terrorist execution."

"They were killed because they were French soldiers."

"I want to honour and celebrate this army ... I want to honour these men. I came to stand in front of the coffins of these assassinated soldiers. I came to talk to their families, their nearest and dearest, their brothers in arms."

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From AFP: "French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Jewish community representatives the suspected Islamist gunman besieged in Toulouse had planned another attack Wednesday, a Jewish leader said."

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The interior minister of France has denied an earlier report that the suspected gunman, Mohammed Merah, had been arrested after a 12-hour stand-off.

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HuffPost has spoken to the Toulouse police who said they will not confirm if the suspect has been arrested.

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HuffPost's Cosima Ungaro reports on the terrified residents of suspected gunman Mohammed Merah who were not allowed to leave their homes even after the armed stand-off had begun.

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Mohammed Merah gave himself up to police at 1.24pm, according to Sky News.

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@ H_E_Samuel : This looks bad for #Sarkozy now. How can a convicted Taleban bomber escape allied Afghan jail and kill seven be "under surveillance"?

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According to AFP the suspect has resumed negotiations with police.

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One former member of the Raid special forces has given his verdict on the police operation: "They f**ked up.”

Raid is the Research, Assistance, Intervention and Dissuasion unit of the French national police.

He told Le Monde: “When we enter an apartment, there is always a risk for it to f**k up. It has to go fast, very fast, and we have an initial handicap as the suspect knows the premises, we don’t," he said.

For now, he added, “the best solution is the mousetrap. We wait for him to come out and we get him on the streets, outside.”

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More details about Mohammed Merah have been reported by Europe 1.

Before making his way to Afghanistan, Mohammed Merah applied to the Foreign Legion and to the army. In 2010, he presented himself in both recruiting centers in Toulouse, but he wasn’t accepted because of his criminal record and his psychological instability.

Since then, the DPSD, the Direction for the Protection of Secret-Defence, the former military security, kept an eye on the suspect.

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A man living in the building told french television channel LCI about his night:

"I was woken up, there was some noise, I could hear shots being fired, I came out on my balcony. There was a policeman who shone his flashlight on me telling me to return inside the house. I was a little stunned, I didn’t know what was going on."

Another told I-Tele he personally knows the suspect and saw him often in the building.

“I know who he is, as well as his brother. I met them often, I even told them hello, They were very polite, as normal as could be.”

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During the night, neighbours of the suspect contacted radio channels begging to be evacuated - because police told them not to leave.

One woman spoke to Europe 1 and said with a strangled voice:

"I would like to pass on a message to the police forces so they can help us get out of the building because we are stuck here since 3am with shots being fired, no one is giving us updates and we should be evacuated."

Another was in tears as she spoke to France Info:

"No one came to help us, no one is calling us, we don’t know what is going on, there are noises of shots being fired, there are voices of men talking to him but he won’t surrender. Now someone has to come get us."

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Reuters have reported a Kandahar official as saying the suspected Toulouse gunman was broken out of prison in a "mass jailbreak".

Ghulam Faruq, the director of prisons in Kandahar, told the agency that Merah was arrested for planting bombs in the region and escaped in 2008 after a mass Taliban prison break.

He said that Merah was arrested in 2007.

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The National Front party of France, wrote a press release this morning entitled “For the bastards,” accusing those who had voiced the possibility that the culprit might come from the far right.

According to the party, some politicians used the Toulouse tragedy as an excuse to attack its candidate, Marine Le Pen.

“Your entreprise aimed at dragging in the mud 20% of French people failed. You tried to add your poor political condemnation to the horror of the drama.”

The statement asks to the people concerned to formally apologise to the party and its voters.

The statement is directed to far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Francois Bayrou the Modem leader, and Guillaume Sopo, president of the association SOS Racism, who had criticised the climate of intolerance and division of the electoral campaign.

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Merah called the broadcaster France 24 in the early hours of the morning, the network said.

He said he was connected to Al Qaeda, that what he did marked only "the beginning".

"Merah explained he was against the headscarf ban and was fighting against the French participation to Nato operations in Afghanistan,” said Ebba Kalondo, editor in chief of France 24, who spoke to the suspect, he said.

“The Jews killed our brothers and sisters in Palestine,” he said. The man was calm, talked articulately. He confirmed that all murders had been filmed and that the videos would be posted online.

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Nicolas Sarkozy has made a statement on the stand-off:

"In the name of the nation I would like to congratulate the police for the speed of their inquiry and their exceptional mobilisation of forces," he said.

"I am also thinking deeply about the victims of this barbaric act and also thinking about all those police officers that were wounded last night during the operation."

Sarkozy said he will go to Montauban, the site of the shooting of three soldiers on 11 March, in the afternoon, and later would be in Toulouse

"I have brought the head of the Muslim Council and also the Jewish community together, and I wanted to give them all the information I have and to show terrorism will never succeed.

"We will never give in to vengeance or hatred.

"I think of those victims coldly murdered, we owe them everything."

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According to the Telegraph a bomb exploded outside the Indonesian embassy in Paris on Wednesday morning.

A witness saw a man escape in a Citroen C3 just before the explosion, the newspaper said.

No one was hurt in the incident, and no link with the shootings in Toulouse has been made.

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Interior minister Claude Gueant said that the suspect is "no longer talking to police".

He said that two of Mohammed Merah's sisters and two of his brothers are being held by police.

He also confirmed that weaponry had been found in a car near to the stand-off.

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