Merah's brother placed under formal investigation for complicity in killings


THE BROTHER of the gunman who killed seven people in southwest France in recent weeks has been formally placed under investigation for complicity in the murders.

The Paris public prosecutor’s office said preliminary inquiries had produced enough material to justify detaining Abdelkader Merah (29), who was flown to the capital yesterday for questioning at the headquarters of the domestic intelligence agency.

Abdelkader was arrested on Wednesday as armed police in Toulouse carried out three raids in connection with the killing of three soldiers, three children and a rabbi in the city. His brother Mohamed, who confessed to the killings, was shot dead in a gun battle with police on Thursday after a 32-hour siege at his apartment.

Mohamed Merah does not appear to have acted as part of an Islamist network, but police are trying to establish whether he was swayed or given practical help by his brother, who was questioned over alleged links to a network that helped smuggle Jihadist militants into Iraq in 2007.

“Police inquiries have produced serious and matching pointers that suggest his [Abdelkader’s] participation as accomplice in crimes relating to a terrorist enterprise is plausible,” the prosecutor’s office said.

Abdelkader denies helping his younger brother to carry out the killings but reportedly told police he was “proud” of him. Investigators say he was present when Mohamed stole a scooter he used to flee the crime scenes, and again when Mohamed visited a Yamaha garage to inquire about de-activating a GPS system on the scooter.

Two women – the Merah brothers’ mother and Abdelkader’s girlfriend – were arrested last Wednesday but released without charge at the weekend. Police believe neither woman was in any way involved in the crimes, and the mother’s lawyer said she was “wracked with guilt and remorse” over her son’s actions.

Several thousand people took part in marches in Toulouse and Paris at the weekend to call for unity between religious communities following the killings, while a small demonstration was held at the home of Merah’s mother.

“Our presence was symbolic. We were all affected,” said Richard Prasquier, the head of the CRIF, France’s Jewish umbrella group, after attending the Toulouse march alongside Muslim leaders. The three dead soldiers were of North African origin.

Domestic intelligence chief Bernard Squarcini said there was no evidence that Mohamed Merah belonged to any radical Islamist network, and that he appeared to have turned fanatic alone. The intelligence services were aware before the killings that Mohamed had made trips abroad, including to Pakistan and Afghanistan, but they remain sceptical about his claims to have been trained there.

Merah told police during the siege that he had bought his weapons using money from burglaries and hold-ups. A report in yesterday’s Journal du Dimanche, citing police sources, said he had planned attacks in Paris.

Meanwhile, reaction to the Toulouse killings continued to dominate political exchanges. Responding to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s claims that the socialists were soft on security, François Hollande, frontrunner for the presidency, accused Mr Sarkozy of failing to live up to law-and-order promises.