French gunman's brother detained

Sun, Mar 25, 2012, 00:00

The brother of an al Qaeda-inspired killer who died in a hail of French police bullets will be kept behind bars while he is investigated for possible complicity in the crimes, the public prosecutor's office said today.

Abdelkader Merah (29) arrested last Wednesday as police laid siege to his brother Mohamed's Toulouse apartment following the killing of four soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi, was placed under formal investigation after four days of preliminary interrogation.

"Police inquiries have produced grave and matching pointers that suggest his participation as accomplice in crimes relating to a terrorist enterprise is plausible," the Paris public prosecutor's office said in a statement.

The inquiry will seek to establish whether Abdelkader Merah, who state prosecutors say is already known to security services for helping to smuggle Jihadist militants into Iraq in 2007, should stand trial.

His wife was released. Abdelkader Merah said during preliminary questioning he was proud of his 23-year-old sibling's killing spree, a police source has said. Police also found explosives in a car that he owned, according to the Paris prosecutor leading the case.

Mr Merah's younger brother, Mohamed Merah (23) was killed by a sniper last Thursday after a gun battle with police and a more than 30-hour siege during which he admitted the killings.

A police source said yesterday that at a closed hearing in Toulouse Mr Merah had declared himself "proud" of his brother's killings and had admitted helping Mohamed steal the scooter used in all seven murders. He had denied any knowledge of his brother's murderous plans, however, the source added.

DCRI head Bernard Squarcini told the daily Le Monde on Friday  that there was no evidence Merah belonged to any radical Islamist network and that he appeared to have turned fanatic alone. Yet investigators are still trying to establish whether the young Frenchman of Algerian extraction had any logistical or ideological support or really was a genuine "lone wolf".

Merah's brother, and a sister, were known to have studied the Koran in Egypt in 2010 and French police had in the past found links between them and a radical Islamist group based in southern France led by a Syrian-born Frenchman dubbed "The White Emir" by French media because of his fair hair and beard.

The shootings shifted the focus of political debate away from France's economic woes and played to the strengths of Mr Sarkozy as he fights for re-election in a two-round vote in April and May.

Polls show that about two-thirds of voters approved of his handling of the Toulouse crisis, which reduced his challengers, chief among them Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande, to the role of bystander.

Mr Sarkozy's intelligence adviser, Ange Mancini, sought to head off increasing media debate about whether Merah could have been stopped before he started killing, saying the intelligence and police services had done an "exemplary" job and that it was always easy to ask after the fact if there were flaws.

"Obviously the aim now will be to dig deeper, not just to know more about the case in question, but to see whether there are other lessons, to try to identify whether anyone else might be heading down the same road," Mr Mancini told news channel BFM TV.

Foreign minister Alain Juppe said earlier this week that the question of any possible failings would have to be clarified in due course."I have a lot of respect for Alain Juppe but he is not an intelligence and intervention specialist," Mr Mancini said.

An opinion poll released today appeared to contradict the idea that national security had shot to the top of the agenda for voters despite a week when national and international media provided round-the-clock coverage of the killings and the siege that culminated with a dramatic shootout and death of Merah.

The Ifop polling agency said 53 percent of people believed France faced a high risk of terrorist attack. It was the lowest worry score recorded since Ifop started sounding people out on the issue at the time of the suicide airliner attacks in the United States in 2001, when the number who perceived a high risk of terror attack was 78 per cent, according to IFOP.

Reuters