Official: French Suspect Sought More Bloodshed
A man claiming al Qaeda links and suspected in the killings of three Jewish children, a rabbi and three paratroopers had planned to kill another soldier imminently, prompting a major police raid on his apartment, a French prosecutor said Wednesday.
Prosecutor Francois Molins said the suspected gunman remains holed up in the apartment in the city of Toulouse more than 13 hours after a standoff began before dawn. Talks are under way to secure his surrender.
In the negotiations, the suspect “expresses no regret, only that he didn’t have time to have more victims. And he even bragged, he said, of bringing France to its knees,” the prosecutor said.
“He had foreseen other killings, notably he foresaw another attack this morning, targeting a soldier,” Molins said, adding also planned to attack two police officers. “He claims to have always acted alone.”
The new allegations against the man come as details about his life emerged. Molins said the man, identified as Mohamed or Mohammad Merah, had been to Afghanistan twice and had trained in the militant stronghold of Waziristan in Pakistan. Molins added that his brother had been implicated in a network sending fighters to Iraq.
The suspect has told police he belonged to al Qaeda and wanted to take revenge for Palestinian children killed in the Middle East, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said, adding the man was also angry about French military intervention abroad.
In an interview broadcast on French television network France24, Ebba Kalondo, an executive producer there, said she received a phone call from a man claiming to be the suspect. In the phone call, the man said he carried out the killings for the deaths of what he called “my little brothers and sisters in Palestine.”
An Interior Ministry official told The Associated Press that Merah has been under surveillance for years for having “fundamentalist” views. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Merah is a self-proclaimed member of the Forsan al-Izza or “Knights of Glory” group, which the French government banned in January following suspicion that it was recruiting Jihadists to Afghanistan.
Kalondo said the caller was also protesting against a French ban against wearing the Islamic veil and against the country’s participation in the war in Afghanistan.
Gueant told reporters Merah is “less explicit” about why he killed French paratroopers. The paratroopers were of Muslim and French Caribbean origin, but the interior minister said the suspect told them the ethnic origin has nothing to do with his actions.
“He’s after the army,” Gueant said.
His travels to Afghanistan have contributed to some confusion over his background.
A person with a similar name was arrested in southern Afghanistan five years ago. The commander of a prison in Kandahar, Col. Ghulam Farouq, told CBS News a prisoner by the name of Mohammad Merah, of north African origin, was arrested in 2008 in connection with a bombing in Kandahar and sentenced to three years. He managed to escape later that year, along with about 600 other prisoners, in a brazen prison break staged by the Taliban.
Farouq told CBS News Kabul bureau chief Fazul Rahim that he cannot confirm the prisoner was the same man being pursued over the French shootings.