French killer Merah 'a lone wolf'

Thu, Mar 29, 2012, 01:00

The man who claimed responsibility for a killing spree in southern France had separated from his wife days before the attacks and was suffering “psychological difficulties”, his lawyer said.

Christian Etelin sought to portray his client as a “lone wolf” with no organised crime or terrorist connections and as “an abandoned child” angry at a long-absent father.

Police say Mohamed Merah (23) filmed himself killing three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers earlier this month and that he claimed he had links to al-Qaeda. Merah was killed in a gunfight with police last week.

While French politicians have described Merah as an isolated killer, police are searching for potential accomplices.

Merah’s brother is in custody, suspected of helping prepare the attacks. Questions about a possible “third man” intensified after officials said Merah was not the one who mailed a USB key with video of his killings to the Al Jazeera news network.

Merah’s body will be sent from Toulouse to Algeria today for burial, said Abdellatif Mellouki, regional leader for France’s main Muslim organisation, known as the CFCM.

Merah was born in France and grew up in Toulouse, but his family is of Algerian origin and his father, who lives in Algeria, wants his body buried there.

Mr Etelin was taken aback when Merah was identified last week in a nationwide manhunt as the main suspect in France’s worst terrorist killings since the 1990s. The lawyer appeared to still be learning things about Merah, whom he had represented before and who had numerous convictions for delinquency. Mr Etelin last saw Merah on February 24th, about two weeks before the first killings on March 11th.

“I maintain that it is a case of a lone wolf,” he said. “It’s in the context of the contradictions he wrapped himself in, the psychological difficulties that he had to cope with, that everything happened. There was no infrastructure or organisation that he would have been the soldier for.”

Mr Etelin said Merah got married in an Islamic ceremony in December, but the couple separated less than a week before the first attack. They had had no civil ceremony, which is required for the marriage to be recognised under French law.

“He had a failure inside of him, a suffering of the abandoned child. This situation of abandon that he suffered again after the separation with his wife,” Mr Etelin said.

“Something happened in him that was very personal,” he said. He said his client had “a certain duplicity” that he could not keep under control.

French intelligence officials have suggested that Merah had a double life or even split personality, allowing him to party in nightclubs and drink alcohol days before the killings with acquaintances who had no idea he was building up an arsenal of weapons, visiting Afghanistan and Pakistan and methodically plotting malicious attacks.

As the investigation continues, president Nicolas Sarkozy has been holding daily meetings with his senior security officials.

“All our services ... are totally mobilised so that all possible light can be shed both on the responsibility of Mohamed Merah but also on any complicity he might have benefited from,” government spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse said after yesterday’s meeting.

Merah’s father has criticised French authorities for killing his son instead of capturing him alive.

Mohamed Benalel Merah was quoted by Algeria’s El-Khabar newspaper yesterday as saying he wants his son buried at a family cemetery near Medea, about 88km south of Algiers.

AP