Who Is French Shootings Suspect Mohammed Merah?
Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old man described by French authorities as a self-styled al Qaeda jihadist, has been named as the chief suspect in a series of shootings that have left seven people dead.
As a standoff with security forces in Toulouse continued Wednesday, a picture emerged of a man who was already known to the police and had apparently sought out Islamist jihadists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“He claims to be a jihadist and says he belongs to al Qaeda,” Interior Minister Claude Gueant told reporters in Toulouse. “He wanted to avenge the Palestinian children and take revenge on the French army because of its foreign interventions.”
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said the suspect told the officers surrounding his apartment that he had acted alone — and that he had intended to carry out more attacks on police and a soldier Wednesday.
His only regret was that he was not able to kill more people, the prosecutor said.
But, Molins added, Merah indicated he was not on a suicide mission. He “does not have the soul of someone who would commit suicide, does not have the soul of a martyr. He would prefer to kill and to live,” the prosecutor said.
A French national of Algerian origin, Merah had been under surveillance by French intelligence for a couple of years, having “already committed certain infractions, some with violence,” Gueant told CNN affiliate BFM-TV.
Merah has spent considerable time in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the minister added.
Lawyer Christian Etelin, who represented Merah in connection with previous minor offenses, said his client went to Afghanistan two years ago.
He had become suddenly radicalized, Etelin told CNN affiliate BFM-TV, and wanted to become more involved politically.
Etelin last saw Merah, whom he described as having a “complex” personality, on February 24, when he appeared in court accused of driving without a license and causing an accident with injuries.
Merah was sentenced to a month in prison and was to appear before the judge again in early April to determine where he would serve that sentence, the attorney said.
But a series of clues, some relating to a scooter used in the attacks, instead led investigators to the apartment in Toulouse where he holed up under siege for hours, Molins said.
The shootings have revealed a ruthless and determined killer.