23.03.2012 1

Provence & Côte d'Azur: Putting together the pieces of a killer's mind

Toulouse safe from gunman

The self-proclaimed al-Qaeda militant who shot dead seven people in the south of France has been killed, ending his reign of terror. Hoping to capture the gunman alive, authorities are now instead trying to piece together how and why these horrific events happened.

Investigations begin into the mind of the Toulouse gunman

Mohamed Merah, the 23-year-old French national believed to be behind the recent shooting campaign in Toulouse, was shot dead by police yesterday following a 31-hour-long siege at his home in one of the city’s sleepy suburbs.

Despite the fact French authorities were desperate to capture Merah alive, early negotiations revealed that he was determined to die “weapon in hand”. And so he did, injuring three policeman in the process. Investigators must now piece together Merah’s true motives and determine how, having been under surveillance for some time, he was able to slip under the radar of France’s intelligence services.

Anti-terror chief François Molins has confirmed that Merah had indeed filmed the murders in Toulouse and Montauban, as witnesses claimed. During the first attack on Sergeant Imad Ibn-Ziaten, Merah can be heard saying “You have killed my brothers, I will kill you.”

Following the first two attacks on 11th and 15th March, police questioned whether the shootings were a retaliation to French military presence in Afghanistan. Merah himself confirmed this when he telephoned French news network France 24 in the hours before police began the siege. “I am protesting against French war crimes,” the supposed killer told the editor, Ebba Kalondo.

In the same conversation, Kalondo said she asked the man on the other end of the line why he had attacked innocent schoolchildren. “I am avenging the lives of Palestinian children. I specifically targeted that (Jewish) school.” Following this attack, at the Ozar Hatorah school in central Toulouse, Palestine was quick to distance itself from the killings, calling the attacks “callous and disgusting”.

Merah first developed his radical views while in prison on petty crime charges. Speaking from the Champs Elysées press conference on Thursday, President Nicolas Sarkozy told the world, “I will not let France’s prisons become a breeding ground for these extremist views,” adding that he will now launch a full-scale investigation into the extent to which this happens in the country’s prisons.

While in many ways Merah fits the jihad stereotype, al Qaeda expert Mathieu Guidere has warned that a new genre of terrorism is becoming increasingly influential - those acting alone, having the same nationality as their target country, youthful and seemingly clean cut. Police will now be trying to establish whether indeed Merah was working alone or, as feared, with a larger network within France or abroad.

Preliminary investigations have revealed that before Merah's death, he had been in contact with a member of an extremist group based in Nice. Omar Diaby, ‘Omsen’, is a member of Nice’s Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride) group and seems to have some similarities with ill-fated Merah. Each born and raised in France, a history of petty crime and robbery tarnishes both reputations. Like Merah, Omsen has in the past expressed some deep anti-Israeli views.

Forsane Alizza was formally dissolved by France’s Interior Minister Claude Guéant back in February when the group’s extreme views began to cause concern amongst authorities; it was accused of training and arming its members in warfare. While Forsane Alizza’s leader Mohammed Achamlane has denied the “violent dimension” to the group, Nice police believe there to be around 100 members.

The President of the United States, Barrack Obama, has already offered his condolences to the families involved in the tragic deaths of the three soldiers, three children and a father, and said that the U.S. will stand beside France in its fight against terrorism.  American monitoring website, SITE, has reported that an organisation linked to al Qaeda, Jund al-Khilafah, have allegedly stepped forward to claim responsibility for the atrocious attacks.

Elsa Carpenter

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Comment by Nicholas Anderson | 23.03.2012

Two points to address in this article:

Sarkozy's comments are way behind the curve of reality - French prisons, indeed it's the same in the UK - are indeed already a breeding ground for promotion of Islamist fanaticism/extremism.

However, to condradict myself, The Soldiers of the Caliphate (Jund al-Khilafah)...it would seem to me are grabbing an opportunity by the horns of a situation that cannot now be verified by the death of Merah. These kind of claims are par for the course in recent history (ever since the invasion of Iraq)...the internet has opened previously-unopened windows.

- Nicholas Anderson is a retired 19-year veteran intelligence officer and author of the book "NOC - Non-Official Cover: British Secret Operations". He lives on the French Riviera.

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