Friday, March 23, 2012

Toulouse shooting: killer 'was on US no-fly list'

The Telegraph

France was facing calls for a far-reaching intelligence inquiry on Thursday night following reports that a suspected al-Qaeda-trained killer shot dead after a marathon siege in Toulouse was on the US no-fly list.

Henry Samuel, Paris

Nationwide relief greeted the news that no police fatalities had been incurred in eliminating Mohammed Merah, 23, wanted in the killings of three French paratroopers, a rabbi and three children ages 4, 5, and 7 shot outside a Jewish school in Toulouse.

But the authorities faced growing criticism that it should have prevented a killing spree by a known fundamentalist who was the US no-fly list and had attended an al-Qaeda training camp. Jund al-Khilafah, an al-Qaeda front organisation claimed responsibility the shootings in a statement posted on jihadist websites.

"On ... March 19th, our brother Yousef the Frenchman carried out an operation that shook the foundations of the Zionist Crusaders ... and filled their hearts with terror," it wrote.

"We claim responsibility for these operations," it went on, adding that Israel's "crimes ... will not go unpunished."

Mr Merah admitted responsibility for the shootings during long talks with negotiators, expressing no remorse other than he had not killed more people.

The scooter-driving gunman filmed all his murders with a mini-camera, and can be heard shouting "Alluha Akbar" and "You killed my brothers, I kill you" in two of the shootings.

He told authorities he had been trained by Al-Qaeda on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Claude Guéant, the Interior minister admitted that he had been under surveillance "for several years", adding he had never "shown any sign of preparing criminal acts" at the outset of the seige.

Increasingly damning evidence suggested France was aware Mr Mehar posed a threat.

French intelligence had previously alerted security services in Spain that Mr Merah was planning to travel to the Costa Brava to attend a meeting of Islamist activists, suggesting they considered him dangerous.

The warning said that he was probably on his way to attend a suspected Salafist congress.

The prosecutor said that he had been arrested by Afghan police in 2010 in Kandahar and handed over to US army troops, who put him on a flight back to France – a claim US military did not confirm on Thursday.

When questioned last November by French intelligence about his foreign journeys, Mr Mehar managed to palm off agents with photos, saying he had been on a "tourist trip".

His older brother, Abdelukar, 29, currently under arrest, had been in 2007 implicated in a Jihad network in Iraq but never charged.

Socialist Jean-Pierre Chevenement, a former defence and interior minister, said the killings were "a warning for services in charge of anti-terrorism", and questioned whether Mr Mehar was a "lone wolf", saying "too many arms, too many trips, too much money".

Reports yesterday that in 2010 Mr Merah forced a teenager to watch videos of Al-Qaeda hostage beheadings and executions. When the boy's mother filed a legal complaint, Mr Merah allegedly appeared with a sword shouting "al Qaeda" and attacked her, putting her in hospital for several days. She insisted the police did nothing.

While Mr Merah claimed to have been trained in the Pakistani region of Waziristan, his indoctrination had begun earlier, during an 18-month spell in prison, in which he tried to commit suicide and then spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

President Nicolas Sarkozy addressed the nation shortly after Mr Merah's death to promise tough new criminal measures against watching internet atrocities and travelling abroad for indoctrination.

"These crimes were not the work of a madman. A madman is irresponsible. These crimes were the work of a fanatic and a monster," he said later.

"To look for an explanation... would be a moral fault."

A spokesman for Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande denounced a surveillance "failing" and said the new measures were not going to solve society's problems.

"In the United States, a commission of inquiry would have been set up without any question to see if there's a problem," said Bruno Le Roux.

"Expressing ideas... is not enough to bring someone before justice." Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said "light must be shed" on what happened in the run-up to the killings, but insisted there was "no reason" to think there were any failings.

He said the estimated 15 to 30 hardcore militants were "tracked".

Mr Sarkozy said an investigation was under way to see if Mr Mehar had any accomplices.

Questions were also raised over the elite RAID police unit's tactics.

"In a case like that you don't knock on the door, even with a battering ram," one specialist told defence expert blog Secret Defense, pointing out that explosives should have been used in the first unsuccessful raid.

It also quoted an expert who asked why police had chosen to move in on his flat. "They knew he was going to come out again and that it would be possible to apprehend him then." The father of Abel Chennouf, a paratrooper killed on March 11, said the assault had been a "failure".

"Not that of the RAID, they did what they could. (But) I would have liked him to be questioned, I would have liked to know why he did that to my son."

"How is it possible that a man known (to be a threat) could act thus?" he asked.

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