French PM Defends Decision Not to Surveil Merah

French prime minister Francois Fillon, left, leaves Elysee Palace, Paris, Jan. 4, 2012 (file photo).
French prime minister Francois Fillon, left, leaves Elysee Palace, Paris, Jan. 4, 2012 (file photo).

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has rejected accusations that his government could have prevented the killing spree allegedly carried out by a fundamentalist Muslim that left seven people dead.

Fillon said on French radio Friday that despite a criminal history, authorities had no specific reason to keep the suspect, 23-year-old Mohamed Merah, under permanent surveillance and no reason to think he would carry out such deadly attacks.

Meanwhile, police are keeping the suspect's mother, brother and the brother's girlfriend in detention, while they try to determine whether Merah acted alone or had accomplices.

Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, was accused of killing three French paratroopers last week and a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday. The attacks were carried out from a motorbike, and authorities say the same weapon was used in all of the attacks. Prosecutor Francois Molins said the suspect filmed each of the attacks while carrying them out.

Investigators have begun collecting evidence at Merah's Toulouse apartment building, where he was killed Thursday by security forces after a 32-hour standoff.

Molins said special police units were instructed to do all they could to capture Merah alive. But when they entered his apartment early Thursday, he came out of the bathroom shooting and then jumped from the balcony. Molins said the suspect was shot in the head.

Officials say Merah espoused a radical form of Islam and had been to Afghanistan and the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan, where he claimed to have received training from al-Qaida. He also had a long record of petty crimes in France for which he served time in prison.

In a televised address Thursday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed to crack down on extremist indoctrination, and said anyone who regularly visits websites that support terrorism or call for hate or violence will be punished by law. He promised new legislation that will punish people who go abroad to train as terrorists or who use the Internet to defend terrorism. He also called for healing and national unity in the wake of the shootings.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said Merah was on the list of known or suspected terrorists who are prohibited from flying to the United States. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, said Merah had been on the no-fly list since 2010.

Merah told negotiators during the standoff that he had killed to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and to protest the French army's involvement in Afghanistan.


Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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Comment Sorting
by: Gab- "Officials say Merah espoused a radical form of Islam"
March 23, 2012 12:00 PM
So who is selling this young guy assault rifles and guns, and where did he get his religious training? He did not get there in a vacuum. Does a radical for of Islam use a different Koran for instructions? What does this young guy do for a living that he can travel so much, has a car and a motorbike, and an assortment of deadly weapons? What does he do for a living?

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