A police sniper shot and killed the gunman who carried out a spate of murders in southern France, prosecutors say, after a 32-hour siege in Toulouse.
Mohammed Merah, 23, who claimed to have al-Qaeda training, opened fire on police commandos after they stormed into his apartment.
Prosecutors said he was shot in the head as he tried to flee.
Merah carried out three separate attacks, killing four people at a Jewish school and three soldiers.
Merah’s former lawyer says he started out as a juvenile delinquent, hooligan and shoplifter. By age 23, he had become a jihadi gunman. Christopher Dickey, the Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East editor for Newsweek and the Daily Beast, talks about Merah’s transformation.
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Lisa Mullins: I’m Lisa Mullins and this is The World. The standoff in Tulle, France came to a violent end this morning. [sound]. Later in the day, France’s Interior Minister described what happened.
[French]. “At 10:30, hand grenades were thrown into the apartment. There was no reaction. Then, the officers took the decision to go in. They entered through the door and windows. When we started searching the bathroom with video equipment, the killer stormed out shooting wildly and, in the end, Mohammed Merah, jumped out of the window holding the gun while still shooting. He was found dead on the ground.”
Mullins: He was dead on the ground with a gunshot wound to his head. Three policemen were wounded in this firefight. Mohammed Merah was wanted for the killing of three French paratroopers, a Rabbi, and three Jewish children in three separate shootings since March 11th. All were in and around the City of Tulle. During a 32 hour siege, the gunman reportedly boasted of the killings to police and he said he hoped to bring France to its knees. Merah said to have been inspired by Al-Qaida and he purportedly been to Afghanistan for training. French investigators say they are still looking into the possibility that Merah had accomplices. Christopher Dickey is Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Editor for News Week and for the Daily Beast. He says, “It’s not yet clear whether he’s acting alone.”
Christopher Dickey: The police are telling the story and his former lawyer is telling the story that he’s just a run of the mill hooligan. Young kid who was in all kinds of trouble. I think he was taken before the juvenile court 15 times. The last time as recently as February when he was caught driving a motor scooter without a license. And, over time, he supposedly indoctrinated himself from the Internet and using CD Roms, probably, and DVDs and other sources to build up his anger about the oppression of Muslims whether in the Palestinian territories or in Iraq or in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. All of that is pretty standard for what they call self-radicalizing Jihads. The problem with his story is that his brother, his older brother was implicated in a network that was sending people from Europe to Iraq to fight in the Jihad against the Americans around 2007. And, there are all these connections that his family has that suggest that he may have been more than just a self-radicalized type. And, then, of course, there are his travels. He went to Afghanistan in 2010 and then he went back to Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2011. And, the French authorities are saying he wasn’t really that important and he was doing this on his own. That seems very doubtful. The real question is why didn’t they notice him the second time he went supposedly he had a Visa and he was going to find a wife. But, it is not exactly normal for a young Frenchman of Algerian decent to go looking for their wives in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Mullins: What else do you know about this man that you think is especially pertinent?
Dickey: I think what’s striking about him is how cool and distant he was. This is a guy who is supposedly a juvenile delinquent and yet when it came to his murder spree it was very well planned, the targets were very carefully chosen. The way it was carried out first, killing soldiers then killing people at the Jewish school including three children shot at point blank range, right up against them. That takes a level of, sort of, horrifying cool to carry out. People are screaming. They’re running and, you’re just shooting. He was probably a psychopath. We could say. But, he was not acting like a man out of control. He was acting like a man very much in control and I think that’s quite frightening.
Mullins: If we’re looking then to determine what kind of a threat he was, how do we dissect whether he could have been a Jihad the way we think in terms of possible terrorists and those who could do great destruction or the others who you say are more self-proclaimed Jihad and maybe dilatants because not all Jihads are created equal?
Dickey: Well, that’s right, and what we’ve seen over the years there use to be a fairly clear division between what is called Al-Qaida and Al-Qaida core which can be identified with Iman Zare now or Osama Bin Laden before. That was an organization that was committed to carrying out truly apocalyptic attacks 9-11 being the most obvious. Then you had other group El Shabab in Somalia, Al-Qaida and the Islamic Jihad in North Africa, Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen and still others that identify with the ideology of Al-Qaida but, run more or less independently. The problem is the ideas put forth by these people can be put forth by anyone. If there are still training facilities here and there, it seems the man in Tulse may have gone to one of those training facilities last year in Pakistan and Waziristan. Then, people can learn how to shoot in some cases they can learn how to make bombs. They may have a little profile or no profile when they go back to their home countries.
Mullins: Let’s look at the bigger picture then, how appropriate and how justifiable is it for France’s President Nicholas Sarkozy to do what he especially what he is doing today. Let’s look at the quote he issued today. He said, “From now on, any person who habitually consults websites that advocate terrorism or that call for hatred or violence will be criminally punished.”This is in a televised address he gave after the suspect was [inaudible].
Dickey: That is certainly self defeating from an intelligence point of view. Those websites are pretty easy to monitor. They are one of the best windows that intelligence has into Jihad organizations and particularly into groups, loosely affiliated groups self radicalizing Jihadis. You want those sites to stay open ironically. I mean I was just talking to a very senior official who was saying, “Facebook is the best tool we’ve got, fighting against these, especially these self radicalized types.”
Mullins: But isn’t Facebook one of the best tools that the radicalized types have as well?
Dickey: It’s a toss-up I suppose but if you cut them off from this kind of outlet. They will probably find others. But, what will happen is that the intelligence services will not be able to find them. So, it is a kind of self defeating policy.
Mullins: So how would you gauge the terrorist threat in France now?
Dickey: I think putting it simply the threat that is posed is it’s must harder to identify specific organizations that are promoting Jihad terrorism and carrying it out. But, the spread of random acts of Jihadist terrorism is likely to increase. If you are a wanna be Jihadist or terrorist when you see that one guy using a 45 automatic can hold the world’s attention for three days, you say, “Hmm, I could do that too.”And, that’s the thing that scares the hell out of law enforcement
Mullins: Christopher Dickey Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Editor for News Week and the Daily Beast. Thank you.