23/03/2012 11:30 GMT

Toulouse Shootings: French Intelligence Under Attack For 'Flawed' Operations

Presidential candidate Francois Hollande has criticised the French security forces for their "flawed" surveillance of Mohammed Merah, the gunman who murdered seven people in Toulouse before being shot himself.

Merah, who killed three soldiers nearly two weeks ago before turning his guns on four people, including three children, at a Jewish school on Monday, was shot by a police sniper after he opened fire on police commandos storming his flat following a 32-hour siege on Thursday morning.

It was known he had travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan and had been placed on the US no-fly list banning him from boarding any aircraft to America.

Hollande's criticism came as it emerged that security services had kept Merah under surveillance for months.

The Socialist candidate said there had been "flaws" in the surveillance and there were "questions which must be asked" in the wake of the killings.

"Our laws have been strengthened against this threat, and it can be said that this arsenal is flawed," the Socialist candidate added.

Similar observations to Hollande came from all sides of the political spectrum. Defence minister, Gerard Longuet, said that all those involved needed to question their roles in the affair, believing that investigators in charge of the hunt for the killer lost time because of the initial focus on the lead of neo-nazi servicemen, which proved false.

"We lost a considerable amount of time because some investigators wanted absolutely to look in one specific direction instead of looking in every possible directions," Longuet told French television channel Canal + on Friday.

"My sincerity is to say, in front of such a dire event, that each of us according to his responsibility, should ask himself, what could I have done to do better?"

Former Israeli military and security officials joined French politicians in criticising the stand-off operations, on the ground of their failure to capture Mohammed Merah alive, despite the extensive amount of time and latitude they had at their disposal.

"Who waits for 30 hours to act when there are no hostages? The whole operation resembles a demonstration of stupidity," said Alik Ron, former chief in the Israeli intervention unit and of the paratroopers special forces.

"I assume the order was to capture him alive, but there are limits. We can't leave him for 30 hours, give him a telephone to speak to the whole world and transform him into a martyr and a hero."

Speaking on French radio, Fillon said the DCRI, France's domestic intelligence service, "had done their job perfectly".

"They did enough surveillance to see that there was no evidence to suggest he was a dangerous man," he told RTL on Friday.

"We do not have the right in this country to permanently monitor someone when they have committed no crime, without the decision of a judge. We live in a state of law."

Bernard Squarcini, director of the DRCI, gave a special interview to French newspaper Le Monde in an attempt to appease the wave of criticism.

Responding to the generally negative assessment of the operations, Squarcini certified it was impossible to affirm on Sunday night that Merah was the culprit and avoid Monday's school shootings.

"According to his declarations during the negotiations, he hadn't planned to attack the Jewish school on Monday morning. He wanted to kill another soldier, but came too late. As he knows the neighborhood well enough, he improvised and attacked the Ozar-Hatorah school."

Evaluating how someone judged as harmless in November became a potential murderer in March, Squarcini referred to Merah's double personality caused by his childhood traumas and psychological disorders.

"It's something atypical, irrational and violent. Mohammed Merah is someone who had a violent behaviour since he was a child, something we cannot link with any particular typology."

The director emphasised his relief to have found him, insisting it couldn't have been done at an earlier time.

"Unfortunately, there have been innocent victims, but there could have been more. We couldn't have gone faster. We would have loved to."

Meanwhile, hundreds of people gathered for a rally in Toulouse on Friday in a show of unity and to pay their respects to Merah's victims.