Toulouse and Montauban shootings

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2012 Toulouse and Montauban shootings
Location of Toulouse and Montauban, France
Location

Midi-Pyrénées region, France:

Date 11 March 2012 (2012-03-11)
22 March 2012 (2012-03-22)
Target French soldiers and Jewish civilians
Attack type
Spree shooting, school shooting, siege
Weapons
Deaths 8 (including the perpetrator)
Non-fatal injuries
5
Perpetrator Mohammed Merah[1]
Motive Antisemitism, extremist Islamic beliefs

The Toulouse and Montauban shootings were a series of three gun attacks targeting French soldiers and Jewish civilians in the cities of Montauban and Toulouse in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France in March 2012.[2][3][4] In total, seven people were killed, and five others were injured, four seriously. The perpetrator was shot and killed after a 30-hour siege with police.

The first attack occurred on 11 March, when a Muslim French paratrooper was shot dead in Toulouse. A second attack on 15 March killed two uniformed soldiers and seriously injured another in a shopping centre in Montauban. On 19 March, four people, including three children, were killed at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish day school.[5][6] Thereafter, the Vigipirate, France's terror alert system, was raised to its highest level in the Midi-Pyrénées region and surrounding departements.[7] The United Nations,[8] many governments around the world,[9] and the French Council of the Muslim Faith condemned the attacks.[10]

The perpetrator was identified as Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old [11] French petty criminal, of Algerian descent.[12][13][14][15] Merah attacked French Army personnel reportedly because of its involvement in the war in Afghanistan. Merah admitted antisemitic motivations,[16] and said he attacked the Jewish school because "The Jews kill our brothers and sisters in Palestine."[17][18][19]

Merah was raised in an "atmosphere of racism and hatred",[20] and French investigators believe that Merah turned to Salafism in prison and his radicalization increased after two journeys he made to Afghanistan and Pakistan.[13][21][22][23] Some sources have also cited Merah's familial connections to Al Qaeda[24] and his history of psychological issues[15] as factors in the shootings.[25] Merah said he was a mujaheed and claimed ties to the terrorist group al-Qaeda,[26] though this has been denied by French authorities.[27][28] President Sarkozy described the attack as isolated.[29] The police investigation suggested that he was not working alone and had made more than 1,800 calls to over 180 contacts in 20 different countries, in addition to several trips to the Middle East and Afghanistan.[30]

Attacks[edit]

The shootings were connected and were perpetrated by Mohammed Merah (see below). The authorities determined that all of the attacks involved the same weapon, a .45 pistol.[4][31] In all three attacks, the helmeted shooter arrived and left on the same stolen scooter.[32]

11 March: paratrooper in Toulouse[edit]

On 11 March, Master Sergeant Imad Ibn-Ziaten, aged 30, an off-duty paratrooper in the 1st Parachute Logistics Regiment (1er Régiment du train parachutiste) was killed when he was shot in the head at point-blank range outside a gym in Toulouse.[3][4] At the time Ibn-Ziaten was waiting to meet someone who had claimed to be interested in buying a motorcycle from him, and it is suspected that the supposed buyer attacked him instead.[4] The perpetrator was described as wearing a helmet and riding a motorcycle.[33]

The family of Ibn-Ziaten subsequently buried him in their hometown of M'diq, Morocco.[34]

15 March: three paratroopers in Montauban[edit]

On Thursday, 15 March, at around 14:00, two uniformed soldiers were killed and a third was seriously injured outside a shopping centre in Montauban, around 50 km north of Toulouse, while withdrawing money from a cash machine. They were all from the 17th Parachute Engineer Regiment (17e Régiment du génie parachutiste), whose barracks are close to the town. Corporal Abel Chennouf, 24, and Private Mohamed Legouad, 23, both of North African origin, were killed. Corporal Loïc Liber, 28, from Guadeloupe, was left in a coma. The security cameras showed the killer on a powerful moped and wearing a black helmet. The killer reportedly pushed aside an elderly woman, who was waiting to withdraw money from the cash machine, while taking aim.[4][35][36]

19 March: Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse[edit]

Map of the school, and access map of Merah's residence.

The Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse is part of a national chain of at least twenty Jewish schools throughout France, educating children of primarily Sephardic, Middle Eastern and North African descent. The school is a middle and secondary school, with most children between the ages of 11 to 17. It also serves as a transportation node for other schools. Many parents bring their younger children to Ozar Hatorah, and place them on shuttle buses that travel to the other schools in the area.

At about 8:00 am on 19 March, a man drove up to the Ozar Hatorah school on a Yamaha TMAX motorcycle. He dismounted, and immediately opened fire toward the schoolyard. The first victim was a rabbi and teacher at the school who was shot outside the school gates as he tried to shield his two young sons from the gunman. The gunman shot one of the boys as he crawled away, as his father and brother lay dying on the pavement. He then walked into the schoolyard, chasing people into the building.

Inside, he shot at staff, parents, and students. He chased an 8-year-old girl into the courtyard, caught her by her hair and raised a gun to shoot her. The gun jammed at this point and he changed weapons from what the police identified as a 9mm pistol to a .45 calibre gun, and shot the girl in her temple at point-blank range.[32][37][38][39] The gunman then retrieved his moped and drove off.

Security was increased in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Many Jewish institutions were already under continuous protection, but as a result of the shootings, streets in France that have Jewish institutions on them were closed to traffic.[32] President Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as other candidates in the presidential elections, immediately traveled to Toulouse and to the school and the election campaign was suspended. Sarkozy called for a minute of silence in all schools the following day.[40]

The type of scooter used in the shootings, a Yamaha TMAX.

On 23 March, Ange Mancini, intelligence adviser to President Sarkozy, said Merah had wanted to kill a soldier, but arrived too late and instead attacked the nearby Jewish school.[41]

Victims[edit]

Four people died: 30-year-old Rabbi Jonathan (Yonatan) Sandler; his two oldest (out of three) children Aryeh, aged 6, and Gabriel, aged 3; and the head teacher's daughter, eight-year-old Miriam Monsonego, the girl shot in the head.[39][42][43] Bryan Bijaoui, a 17-year-old[44] Jewish boy, was gravely injured.[45] It was the worst school-related attack in French history.[46]

The bodies of all four dead were flown to Israel on 20 March, accompanied by French foreign minister Alain Juppé.[47] They were buried by family members at the Har HaMenuchot cemetery in Jerusalem. The two deceased children of Sandler were dual French-Israeli citizens, as are Sandler's widow and surviving child.[48]

19 March–22 March: manhunt[edit]

Departements where Vigipirate terror alert was raised to its highest level

The killings spurred one of the biggest manhunts in modern French history. The police erected roadblocks in Toulouse and placed extra security outside Jewish and Islamic schools across France. Because of the ethnic identities of the victims, most of whom were of Jewish or Arab descent, police initially suspected the involvement of neo-Nazis.[49] Since he drew little attention to himself otherwise, police faced an uphill struggle in focusing in on Merah as a suspect, even as the killings continued. Merah had taken care to ensure that the magazine and shell casings he left offered no fingerprints or DNA. The search for Sergeant Ibn Ziaten's bogus motorbike buyer was homing in on the Merahs' computer, as cross-checks revealed that the Toulouse woman who owned the IP address had two sons on the anti-terrorism watchlist. The hunt for the gunman's scooter also took a decisive turn when Merah asked a motorcycle mechanic in Toulouse about removing a GPS anti-theft tracking device on his bike. Merah also said that he had just repainted the bike white.[50]

22 March: siege and perpetrator's death[edit]

An hour before police surrounded his apartment, Merah called the French television channel France 24 and Ebba Kalondo, the editor who spoke with him, reported that for Merah, "these acts were not only necessary, but that they were to uphold the honour of Islam.”[51] According to Kalondo, "He said he was in connection with al Qaeda, that what he had done was only the beginning. He said he was against the French ban on face covering and fought against the French participation in operations NATO in Afghanistan."[19] At 03:00 local time (02:00 UTC), the French police tried to arrest Merah at his apartment on Sergent Vigné Street in the Côte Pavée neighborhood. Merah shot at the police through the door, injuring three police officers in the process.[52][53]

RAID ("Research, Assistance, Intervention, Deterrence"), an elite police anti-terrorist unit, surrounded the 1960s five-storey block of flats soon after.[53][54] Merah was armed with an AK-47, an Uzi, a Sten, a Winchester 12 gauge pump-action shotgun, three Colt .45s, a 9mm Glock, and a Colt Python .357 Magnum. Further weapons were found in a rented Renault Megane parked near the apartment building.[52][54] The five-story building block and nearby buildings were evacuated and powerful spotlights trained on Merah's building in an attempt to blind him and prevent him from observing police operations. The electricity and gas supplies were cut off to the apartment block and the street lights in the neighbourhood were switched off.[54] Merah exchanged a Colt .45 for a walkie-talkie which was used to communicate with the police. He told them the location of a bag containing the blood-spattered camera that he had used to film his attacks. One of Merah's brothers was arrested, and another handed himself into custody. Police found weapons and explosives in his brother's car.[53][55] His mother was brought to the scene to help with negotiations, but she refused to become involved, due to her lack of influence on him.[56] Merah informed the police that he intended to give himself up at 22:45. Contact was established with him at that time but Merah then said that he would not succumb without a fight and would kill policemen if necessary. In the late evening of 21 March, blasts were heard at the apartment block which were intended to intimidate the gunman into surrendering."[53] The police blew off the window shutters with a grenade, after which two shots were heard. After that there was no response from the Merah until 11:00 the next day. The police continued the explosions at regular intervals, in an effort to wear Merah down. Officers did not know if Merah was alive as he did not respond to the series of explosions during the night and on Thursday morning.[57]

Façade of Merah's apartment.

At 10:30 on 22 March, the decision was taken to arrest him. Grenades were thrown into the apartment but elicited no response. A 15-strong team of specially trained officers decided to enter the flat first by the door, then using the windows whose shutters had been removed during the night. The team deployed technical devices and video equipment to inspect the different rooms. No presence was detected until a device was introduced into the bathroom. At that point the killer emerged shooting long and frequent bursts.[58] The officers returned fire and snipers opposite attempted to neutralise him. Mohammed Merah then jumped out of the window with weapon in hand and continued to shoot. Merah was shot in the head by a police sniper, and he was found dead on the ground.[59][60]

Less than one hour later it was announced to media in Toulouse that Merah was dead.[59] Merah's death was later confirmed by President Sarkozy.[61][62] Agence France-Presse reported that three police officers had been injured in the preceding gunfire, one of whom sustained "fairly serious" wounds. It was discovered that Merah had a bulletproof vest, components of Molotov cocktails and weapons parts stockpiled inside his flat.[62]

During the standoff with police, Merah told police that he intended to keep on attacking, and he loved death the way the police loved life. He also claimed connections with al-Qaeda.[63][64][65]

Perpetrator[edit]

Mohammed Merah
Mohammed Merah.jpg
Born (1988-10-10)10 October 1988[66]
Toulouse, France
Died 22 March 2012(2012-03-22) (aged 23)[61]
Toulouse, France
Citizenship France
Occupation Mechanic
Organization Al-Qaeda (disputed)[27]
Religion Islam[26]
Parents Zoulika Aziri (mother)
Mohamed Benalel Merah (father)[67]

Mohammed Merah (Arabic: محمد مراح‎; 10 October 1988 – 22 March 2012) was born to French parents of Algerian descent.[52][57]

Early life[edit]

Merah was born on 10 October 1988. His parents divorced when he was five.[68] He was raised, along with his two brothers and sisters, by his single mother in a "tough part of Toulouse".[69] As a minor he was described as having "a violent profile from childhood and behavioural troubles".[70]

During his youth he was arrested numerous times, mostly for petty crimes such as purse-snatching.[69] He was first arrested in 2005 and served two short prison terms; the first was 18 months in 2007-8 for aggravated robbery,[68] the second was in 2009. His convictions reportedly included thefts and driving offences.[71] According to his friends he never went to the mosque.[72] He was known to French authorities because he had travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan.[53]

After the shootings, a French intelligence document, dating back to 2006, was published by French TV station M6, which presented Merah as a member of the Islamist jihadist movement, Forsane Alliza, a France organisation with a cluster of followers in Toulouse, that are suspected of inciting to violence and terrorism.[73] Merah was described as having the "ability to travel and furnish logistic assistance to other militants." The document revealed that Merah was under surveillance since 2006.[74] Forsane Alizza was outlawed in France for encouraging citizens to travel to Afghanistan to fight jihad.[75] Police have been investigating whether Merah acted alone in planning his attacks. The lawyer for the group, speaking after the shootings, denied claims that the leader of the group had any connections with Mohammed Merah.[75]

On 25 December 2008, Merah tried to commit suicide by hanging.[72] A subsequent psychiatric report described Merah as polar narcissistic noting Merah's slicked back hair and Merah's interest in personal grooming and designer clothes. Merah was described as a polar introvert. The psychiatrist stated Merah's "mood is stable" but that he "recently had dark thoughts"[68] and spoke of "suicidal intentions." He found Merah to be "anxious" and "introverted" but not "psychologically disturbed".[76] He said Merah exhibited "neurotic fragility due to the departure of his father and lack of supervision on his mother's part."[68] Merah had a history of psychological problems,[15] and French intelligence officials have suggested he had a double life or even a split personality which allowed him to party in nightclubs and drink alcohol with acquaintances who were unaware that he was amassing an arsenal of weapons, visiting Afghanistan and Pakistan and was methodically plotting attacks.[77]

In January 2008, he tried to join the French Army, but was rejected due to his criminal past. In July 2010, he went to the recruitment centre of the Foreign Legion and stayed overnight, but left before he could be evaluated.[78]

According to declassified documents, the DCRI (French domestic intelligence), Merah and his older brother Abdelkader had been placed under surveillance in late 2009, in particular after they travelled to Egypt, where Merah went to learn Arabic. In 2010, he was identified as a "new recruit" in radical Islamist circles, and questioned by the DCRI after returning from a visit to Pakistan.[79]

French media reported that in 2010 he had forced a neighbour's boy to watch bloody videos from Afghanistan and then beat up the boy's sister after the mother intervened.[70] Bernard Squarcini said that Merah "appeared on radars" when arrested in Kandahar, Afghanistan in December 2010, while visiting as a "tourist." He was followed officially after his return from Pakistan in 2011.[74]

The French newspaper JDD reported Merah's friends described him as a "nice guy" who "got on well with everyone".[70] Sometimes his friends found him devout, but other times Merah would go clubbing.[69] A friend commented that Merah identified "more with Islam than with France"[28] One of his friends said that Merah had been seen in a Toulouse night club three weeks before the attacks.[52] He had also been in Geneva, Switzerland on a skiing trip with two friends a month before the attacks. He allegedly bought the GoPro video camera which he used to film the attacks, from a Fnac store in Geneva.[80]

According to Merah's lawyer, he was sentenced to a month in prison on 24 February 2012 after driving without a driving licence, and was due before the judge again in April.[81]

Merah had reportedly split from his wife days before the shootings.[82][83] He was unemployed at the time of the shootings after having worked as a coachbuilder.[84]

Motivation[edit]

Prior to the discovery of Merah as the attacker, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the antisemitic motivation of the school attack appeared obvious.[85] After Merah was identified, Sarkozy stated that "the Islamic faith has nothing to do with the insane motivations of this man,"[86] and others have echoed this view.[87][88] Merah admitted anti-Semetic motivations for his attack.[16] Some media have described Merah as an "Islamic terrorist".[12][13][89] Merah said that he was motivated by France's ban on wearing the burqa, that "the Jews have killed our brothers and sisters in Palestine,"[19] and he wanted to avenge the French Army's involvement in the war in Afghanistan.[18][19] Mustafa Akyol argues that this is an expression of nationalism but not religion.[90] An editor at France 24 reported that Merah told him that these acts were not only necessary, but that they were to uphold the honour of Islam".[51] Merah's other statement made during the murders, "you killed my brothers, I kill you",[53][91] is interpreted by Ed West as an expression of tribalism and not religion.[87][90]

Mohammed Merah older brother, Abdelghani, said that Mohammed was raised in an "atmosphere of racism and hatred" and blamed his family for Mohammed's attraction to extremist Islamism and antisemitism. Merah's sister, Souad, was recorded saying, "I am proud of my brother. He fought until the end... Jews, and all those who massacre Muslims, I detest them."[20] Abdelghani said that their mother frequently stated that Arabs were born to hate Jews during their childhood and that there may be more "Mohmmed Merah's" if families were allowed to teach such hatred.[92]

Mustafa Akyol argued that Merah was not motivated by Islam and points out that Merah was seen at a nightclub the week before the shootings. He commented that one did not have to be a pious Muslim to be inspired by Al-Qaeda which represents militant Muslim nationalism.[90]

Dan Bilefsky linked Merah's anger to the unemployment and alienation of immigrants in France and said this affected his evolution into a self-styled jihadist.[28] Rosie DiManno argued that Merah was neither motivated by religion, nor the treatment of immigrants in France. She noted that while Merah had familial links with militant Islam (his mother was married to the father of Sabri Essid, who was arrested in 2007 at an Al Qaeda safe house in Syria for militants en route to Iraq), there was no evidence of Merah's involvement with militant groups or even a religious congregation. DiManno instead characterizes Merah as a sociopath who adopted a terror agenda as a cover for his pre-existing rage and who sought "posthumous grandeur."[93]

Paul Sheehan attacks what he calls progressives going into overdrive to "dissociate the violence from Islam" when it was revealed the killer was a Muslim who supported al-Qaeda. He observes that the film of the shootings was mailed to the al-Jazeera TV had been dubbed with verses from the Koran invoking jihad and the greatness of Islam and that Merah studied the Koran during his time in prison which has become a recruitment ground for radical Islam. Sheean argues that Merah specifically targeted Muslim soldiers and Jews and that this was premeditated.[94] President Sarkozy's intelligence adviser stated that Merah did not originally plan on targeting the Jewish school, but only did so after he arrived too late to kill a soldier nearby.[41]

According to Christian Etelin, Merah's lawyer since he was 16, Merah was suffering from "psychological difficulties". Etelin lawyer stated that Merah was abandoned by his father as a child, and there were reports that he split with by his wife days before the attacks.[82][83] Etelin denied that Merah was an Islamist, and said the shootings could have been an episode of "paranoid schizophrenia during which he completely disconnected from reality."[76] Bernard Squarcini, the head of DRCI (France's domestic intelligence agency), stated, "you have to go back to his broken childhood and psychiatric troubles. To carry out what he did smacks more of a medical problem and fantasy than a simple jihadist trajectory."[25]

Intelligence documents later showed Mohamed Merah was not working alone and had made more than 1,800 calls to over 180 contacts in 20 different countries, in addition to several trips to the Middle East and Afghanistan, casting doubt over Squarcini's view of Merah as a solitary figure that was not part of a terrorist network.[30][95]

Filming[edit]

Merah filmed all of the killings using a GoPro camera strapped to his body.[52][53] He made a video of them set to music and verses of the Koran.[96] The video was sent to news agency Al Jazeera. After a request from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Al Jazeera opted not to air the video.[97] One video shows Merah shooting two Muslim[98] French soldiers in Montauban; he is heard shouting Allahu Akbar.[13]

Reactions[edit]

Mourning[99] flags of the European Union, France and Midi-Pyrénées on the Capitole de Toulouse after the attacks.

The attacks were condemned by many governments around the world.[9] The United Nations condemned the killings "in the strongest possible terms."[8] The French Council of the Muslim Faith also condemned the attacks.[10]

In a speech to Palestinian youths at an UNRWA event, the European Union's High Representative Baroness Ashton said, "When we think about what happened today in Toulouse, we remember what happened in Norway a year ago, when we know what is happening in Syria, and we see what is happening in Gaza and Sderot and in different parts of the world – we remember young people and children who lose their lives." Israeli ministers harshly criticised her comparison of the Toulouse murders to the situation in Gaza. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "It is unthinkable to compare a massacre and the Israeli army's surgical, defensive actions against those who use children as human shields." Lady Ashton said that the press reporting of her speech was "grossly distorted" and that had she also referenced Israeli victims in Sderot, but this had been incorrectly omitted from the original transcript.[100][101][102]

The Palestinian Authority also condemned the attacks as "racist crimes". Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, said terrorists must stop trying to justify their acts of violence "in the name of Palestine."[10]

Reactions in French society[edit]

On 19 March, the date of the attack on the Jewish school, President Sarkozy declared the date to be "a day of national tragedy." Both Sarkozy and Francois Hollande condemned the attacks.[103] On 20 March, cities across France observed a minute's silence in remembrance of the victims of the shooting at the Jewish school.[104] Dalil Boubakeur, Rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, condemned the attacks. Gilles Bernheim, the Chief Rabbi of France, called for strengthening the links between Jewish and Muslim communities.[105] According to Rabbi Marc Schneier thousands of Muslims and Jews joined together in solidarity marches in communities throughout Paris.[106]

Many Jewish children in France were afraid to go to school after the shootings, and Jewish teenagers reported fears of dressing in a recognisably Jewish manner. Some Israeli politicians called on French Jews to emigrate to Israel to escape the anti-Semitism in France.[107]

A number of French media questioned the role of the security services during the operation and whether more could have been done to prevent the killings. French counter-terrorism expert Christian Prouteau criticised the siege operation, saying tear gas might have been used to capture Merah alive, and reduce the chance he could attack police.[108][109]

Following Merah's death, an English teacher from Rouen asked her students for a moment of silence and called Merah a "victim". Most of the students immediately left the classroom and wrote to the director. Only when the students began to leave and remonstrate did the teacher appear to back down, saying that she was "not feeling too well" and would "perhaps take some time off." A representative of teachers union SGEN-CFDT said she was weak and had health concerns and immediately regretted what she said. A school spokesman said what had happened was a "sad incident" and a disciplinary procedure was under way. The teacher was suspended a few days later at the request of French education minister Luc Chatel, who said he "condemned this unspeakable behaviour without reservation".[110][111]

Nicholas Vancour reported that the reaction in Les Izards, a "sensitive urban zone" where Mohamed Merah grew up, of which many are Muslim Arabs[112] and where the unemployment rate for people under 30 is rising and can reach 30%,[76] was to regard Merah to be "one of their own, no matter what he did." One woman was supportive of Merah's family; a woman who was a family friend of the Merahs, expressed sympathy for him, but said she did not condone his actions. A group of twenty youths accosted the police, and Mohamed Redha Ghezali, a 20-year-old man from the neighbourhood, was sentenced to three months in prison for praising Merah's actions. The man while haranguing police officers had said, "My friend Mohamed is a real man – too bad he wasn't able to finish the job." He was convicted of "provoking racial hatred" and "apology for terrorism" and the Toulouse prosecutor stated that the state would "systematically pursue" people expressing support for Merah.[113][114] Some young men of the neighbourhood found conspiracy theories more convincing than that one of their own could be a killer. A movement is under way to mount a demonstration in support of the imprisoned Abdelkader Merah, who faces charges of complicity in murder and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism.[76][115]

Mohammed Merah's older brother, Abdelghani, later wrote a book condemning the hero-worship of Mohamed among some young French Muslims. He recalled "whoops of joy" and that people were congratulating his mother at the wake for Mohammed.[20]

Rallies[edit]

On 19 March, several thousand people marched silently in Paris in memory of the victims of the shootings.[116] On 24 March, hundreds of people gathered in Lyon and Rouen, to pay tribute to the victims in silent marches. Many held signs saying "We will never forget".[117] In Toulouse, 6000 people marched on 25 March, including mayor Pierre Cohen, Chief Rabbi of France Gilles Bernheim and Hassen Chalghoumi, the imam at Drancy.[118][119]

Small demonstrations honouring Merah were held on housing estates, including the Toulouse one where he grew up. A small rally of around 30 people[117] was held in Toulouse in tribute of Merah and was dispersed by French police. The AGI reported that most protesters were young women wearing the burka, which is banned in France in public places.[120][121] Several people acquainted with the killer attempted to leave flowers outside his flat. Members of the group said this was a gesture to restore dignity to the Muslim community of Toulouse and to the gunman’s family and was not an attempt to vindicate Merah while others said that they did not wish to judge him harshly and that the vilification of Merah was unfair. The New York Times quoted Pierre Cohen, the mayor of Toulouse stating that rumours of Muslims organizing a demonstration for Merah were "false".[122][123] Graffiti in Toulouse read "Viva Merah", "Vengeance" and "Fuck the kippa" before being cleaned.[124]

Criticism of media[edit]

A news camera in the centre of Toulouse after the shootings.

Joel Braunold criticised the "airbrushing anti-Semitism out of the Toulouse attack" and described the view that Merah was "imbued neither with the values of Islam, or driven by racism and anti-Semitism" as shocking. He criticises the "dehumanization of Merah’s victims" that were a religious leader and three small children of a particular minority community, and the way in which some have interpreted this as a symbol of attacking society in general. He is disturbed at the "inabilities of some to even mention anti-Semitism as a cause" despite the fact that this man’s victims were not random and were Jews.[125]

The media were also criticized for incorrectly targeting far-right groups as being the perpetrators of this attack before the attacker was known.[126][127]

Aftermath[edit]

Fears of backlash[edit]

In the aftermath, many French Muslims feared the stigmatization of the Muslim community,[128][129][130][131][132] and an increase in Islamophobia.[133] President Sarkozy also warned against stigmatizing millions of French Muslims because of the actions of a single extremist.[132][134]

Internet law proposal[edit]

President Sarkozy proposed a new law that would imprison those who repeatedly visit websites promoting terror or hatred.[135] According to The Times of India, legal experts are concerned that such a law could curtail freedom of speech.[136] Reporters Without Borders accused Sarkozy of trying to create an internet surveillance system.[135]

Anti-Semitic incidents[edit]

The French Jewish community documented 90 anti-Semitic incidents in the 10 days that followed Merah's attack. The Service de Protection de la Communauté Juive (SPCJ) recorded 148 anti-Semitic incidents in March and April with forty-three of those classified as violent. The authorities also recorded 105 instances of anti-Semitic intimidation and threats during those two months.[137][138] Jewish graves were vandalised in Nice.[139] The SPCJ said the situation was "deeply worrisome" and reflected support for Merah's attack.[137] The Interior Minister Manuel Valls held a meeting with Jewish representatives in which he promised increased protection for Jewish institutions in France.[138]

The French police investigated email and telephone threats received by staff at the school in the days following the attacks.[140] On 26 March, a 12-year-old boy was hit and punched in the back of his head as he left his Ozar Hatorah school in Paris "by youths reciting anti-Semitic slogans".[140][141][142] In one attack a Jewish man and his friend were attacked by people identifying themselves as Palestinians who promised to "exterminate" the Jews.[137] In Villeurbanne, three youths wearing Jewish skullcaps were leaving a Jewish school when they were attacked with a hammer and iron bars. Incoming French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described the attack as "intolerable violence".[138][143]

Possible accomplice[edit]

Mohamed Merah's brother Abdelkader Merah, aged 29, was detained after the death of his brother and faces preliminary charges[needs update] of complicity in murder and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism. Investigators believe that he may have assisted Mohamed with the preparation of the killings. Abdelkader's lawyer denied these allegations, saying that press reports that Abdelkader expressed pride in his brother's acts were false, and that he had not been aware of Mohamed's plans.[115] In Les Izards (the community where Mohammed Merah grew up), where some planned to mount a demonstration in support of Abdelkader, many find the idea of an organised plot by the Merahs to be absurd.[76]

Arrest and expulsion of Jihadists[edit]

Police arrested 19 suspected militants, connected to the extreme Islamist group Forsane Alizza,[73] during dawn raids in Toulouse and a number of other cities. According to the BBC the arrests appeared to be in response to the shootings.[144] They were suspected of inciting to violence and terrorism, according to the daily Le Parisien. The CNN[73] and BBC reported that French authorities did not link any of those arrested to Merah.[145] The French prosecutor has denied any link between the arrests, which are the product of an investigation begun in October 2011, and shootings.[146] President Sarkozy also said the arrests were not directly linked to Mohammed Merah.[147][148]

In discussing alienation and Les Izards, the community where Merah spent much of his youth, Nicholas Vinocur writes, "The fear is, there may be more Mohamed Merahs in waiting among Europe's largest Muslim community, of some five million people in France – a worry that may partly explain Friday's roundup of 19 suspected militant Islamists as Sarkozy's government asserts a firm grip on security."[76] Professor Olivier Roy doesn't think that disenfranchised youth are vulnerable to terrorism, writing "For every Qaeda sympathizer there are thousands of Muslims who don the French Army uniform and fight under the French flag."[149]

Sarkozy requested that the police increase its surveillance of "radical Islam" amid rising concerns of a jihadist threat in France.[147] There were suggestions that the government and DCRI were intensifying efforts to deal with suspected militants after being criticised for allowing Merah to slip through the net.[144] The domestic intelligence agency seized several firearms, including five rifles, four automatic weapons and three Kalashnikovs, as well as a bulletproof vest during the raids. French officials said that two radical Islamists were deported and three more are to be expelled. French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said that the two deported were a Malian imam who had preached anti-Semitism and promoted wearing the burka, which is illegal in France in public space, and Ali Belhadad, an Algerian with involvement in a 1994 Marrakech attack. Two imams from Saudi Arabia and Turkey and a suspected Tunisian militant are also due for expulsion from France. A police source stated that some of the arrested were planning to kidnap a Jewish magistrate.[150]

On 4 April, French police arrested 10 people on suspicion that they were "Islamist militants". On 5 April, four of them were released after prosecutors found insufficient evidence to detain them. On 6 April, there were reports that the French police would release the last six individuals as well.[151]

The Interior minister commented "We do not accept Islamic extremism. This is not a new policy... but after what happened in Toulouse and Montauban we have to be more vigilant than ever." President Sarkozy said the aim was to deny the entry of certain people to France who did not share the country's values and that, "It's not just linked to Toulouse. It's all over the country. It's in connection with a form of radical Islam" and added that “more suspected Muslim extremists will be rounded up.” He said that after the traumatic events in Montauban and Toulouse, it was necessary to "draw some conclusions."[152]

The government banned six Islamist leaders from entering France for a Muslim conference expected to be held in Paris.[74][144][152]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]