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Toulouse Killings: Suspect and Self-proclaimed Jihadi Mohammed Merah Under Police Siege

Posted on the 21 March 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Toulouse killings: Suspect and self-proclaimed jihadi Mohammed Merah under police siege

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other candidates' bid to win the French presidential election have been disrupted by the shocking Toulouse killings. Photo credit: Downing Street

French police hunting a gunman suspected of killing seven people in southern France are laying siege to a flat in Toulouse. The holed-up and heavily-armed suspect has been named as Mohammed Merah, 24, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, who has said he belongs to al-Qaeda and acted to “avenge Palestinian children.” Two policemen were injured when they attempted to storm the flat in the early hours of this morning. A huge manhunt had been launched after Monday’s shooting at a Jewish school that left four people dead, and the killing of three soldiers in two incidents in the region last week. Prior to the emergence of Merah as prime suspect, there were widespread reports that the killings might be the work of a xenophobic far right lone wolf in the Norwegian killer Anders Brievik mold.

“He claims to be a mujahideen and to belong to al-Qaeda,” French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said. “He wanted revenge for the Palestinian children and he also wanted to take revenge on the French army because of its foreign interventions.” French media have linked the suspect to a group called Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride) that was banned by Gueant in January.

The manhunt has been frontpage news across France and Europe partly because it has taken place against the backdrop of the fiercely contested French presidential election. During the campaign, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is seeking re-election, has been accused of lurching to the right in an attempt to secure votes.

Politicians react. After Wednesday’s raid took place, Sarkozy boomed, “Terrorism will not succeed in fracturing our national community.” Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Front National, said the “fundamentalist threat has been underestimated” in France, reported the BBC. Paris Grand Mosque Recter Dalil Boubakeur urged France not to stigmatise French Muslims, saying “99.9%” were law-abiding citizens.

Election severely disrupted. Pierre Haski of The Guardian’s Comment is free examined how the Toulouse killings are disrupting the French election: “The election campaign has apparently been suspended, but in reality it has merely continued in disguise – with one preoccupation in every candidate’s mind: how not to make mistakes that might weigh heavily on polling day.” Writing before the suspect was identified, Haski insisted, “We don’t know yet the motivations of the cold-blooded killer of Toulouse and Montauban. What is certain is that he has succeeded in disrupting the election campaign, taking candidates away from the central issues of unemployment, the fate of the euro and the future of nuclear energy, and taking it into uncharted territory.”

The BBC’s Andrew Neil claimed that the gunman being a member of al-Qaeda will intensify the racial aspect of the presidential election race: “Political fallout from Toulouse will be immense now gunman says he’s al Quada. From French presidential election to Israel.”

Trained for jihad? It is understood that Merah spent some time in Afghanistan, possibly being trained for jihad. Le Monde reported that he went twice to Pakistan, once in 2010 and again 2011, to speak with groups of fighters based in the tribal regions near the border with Afghanistan. The paper claims that he trained in the camps there alongside the Pakistani Taliban, foreign jihadis and members of the Haqqani network – and that he even crossed the border into Afghanistan as part of groups sent to fight Nato troops.

Intelligence came up trumps. Bruce Crumley at Time magazine’s Global Spin blog said “French anti-terrorism officials have told TIME repeatedly – including recently – that a number of young men from the Toulouse region are among several in France known to have sought or succeeded in obtaining armed training in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and other ‘theaters of jihad.’ That information – as well as the contact the suspect reportedly made with his first soldier victim before that shooting, and the work he had done on a scooter he allegedly used in all three attacks – allowed investigators to locate and corner the man Wednesday.” Crumley said that “while critics will doubtless claim authorities should have been constantly watching – or perhaps detained – a radical Islamist who underwent training with extremist groups known for terror activity, it also seems clear that intelligence already gathered on the man allowed for him to be located and identified relatively quickly.”

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