Suspect in France Remains in Standoff With Police (NY) TIMES) By SCOTT SAYARE and STEVEN ERLANGER TOULOUSE, France 03/22/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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TOULOUSE, France — A 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent
claimed responsibility on Wednesday for the methodical killings of
four men and three children in this region over the past 10 days,
officials said, after barricading himself in a small apartment
building in Toulouse surrounded by hundreds of police officers.
The suspect was identified as Mohammed Merah, 23, a former garage
mechanic who had made trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and said
that he had been trained by Al Qaeda. Mr. Merah remained retrenched
in an apartment building in the quiet neighborhood of Côte Pavée into
the early hours of Thursday morning, in a standoff that had gone on
for nearly a day. Several explosions and gunshots could be heard just
before 2 a.m. Thursday, a few hours after three blasts rattled the
area in what French news media reported was an attempt to destroy a
window at the suspect’s apartment, as the police tried to let in the
night cold in the hope that Mr. Merah might surrender peacefully.
French officials have indicated that the police will make every
effort to take him alive.
In the first six hours of the standoff, which began before dawn on
Wednesday, the suspect fired several heavy volleys at officers trying
to enter his apartment, wounding two, though neither seriously. At
one point he tossed a .45-caliber pistol from the window, the same
kind used in each of the three attacks, and was given some kind
of “means of communication,” according to the authorities, presumably
a cellphone or walkie-talkie.
“He expressed no regrets, saving only that he did not have the time
to reach more victims,” François Molins, the Paris prosecutor
responsible for overseeing antiterror investigations in France, said,
adding that Mr. Merah said he had planned to kill a soldier on
Wednesday morning, and at some point to kill two police officers here.
A top editor at the news channel France 24 said in a televised
interview that she had spoken by telephone to a man who claimed to be
the shooter in the hours before the police surrounded Mr. Merah’s
building. “He was calm, was speaking in very good French and
punctuated by Arabic expressions,” said the editor, Ebba Kalondo. She
also said he spoke of planning more attacks and of intending to post
video of his killings online.
“This man wanted to bring the Republic to its knees,” President
Nicolas Sarkozy of France said on Wednesday, but “the Republic did
not yield.” He spoke in nearby Montauban at a funeral service for
three soldiers that Mr. Merah said he had killed in the days leading
up to Monday’s killings of a rabbi and three children at a religious
The bodies of those killed at the school — Rabbi Jonathan Sandler,
30, a religious instructor; his two sons, Arye, 6, and Gabriel, 3;
and Miriam Monsonego, 8, the daughter of the school’s principal —
were flown to Israel where they were buried Wednesday in the
sprawling cemetery known as Har Hamenuchot, or the Mount of Rest, in
the Jerusalem hills. Rabbi Sandler was a French citizen; the children
had dual French-Israeli nationality.
Before the burials, mourners packed into a sun-drenched courtyard,
many of them men wearing the black clothes of ultra-Orthodoxy. French
and Israeli dignitaries, including the French foreign minister, Alain
Juppé, joined relatives of the victims there in eulogizing the
innocents, their bodies wrapped in prayer shawls and a velvet cloth
and laid out on stretchers before the small podium.
Mr. Juppé said that the whole of France was in shock over the attack,
adding, “Your pain is ours.”
While much about Mr. Merah’s past remained unclear or unverified, he
seemed to be another example of the kind of homegrown terrorist, with
a European nationality and passport, considered a major security
threat in a period when Al Qaeda has largely disappeared as a
The authorities said they initially suspected both Mr. Merah and his
brother Abdelkader, 29, who was known locally for his radical
religious ideology and had been detained for questioning outside
Toulouse on Monday.
Explosives were found in Abdelkader’s car on Wednesday, the police
said, and Mr. Merah was tracked in part because his mother’s computer
had been used to make contact with his first victim, a French soldier
selling a motorbike online, whom Mr. Merah says he killed on March 11.
Investigators tapped eight telephone lines beginning Monday evening.
On Tuesday, they viewed surveillance tapes from the killings that
showed the gunman, with what appeared to be a video camera strapped
to his chest, seeming to film his actions as he coolly shot his
victims. They also met with a motorcycle dealer who recalled a visit
by one brother, which allowed them to identify the two as primary
suspects in the case, Mr. Molins said.
They were able to locate the two later that day, he said, and plans
were made late in the night on Tuesday to arrest them, along with
their mother. Investigators were not certain at that point which
brother had been the gunman. It was not until Mr. Merah opened fired
on the elite police agents sent to capture him that he became the
Police negotiators had hoped his mother would help persuade him to
surrender, but she would not speak to the suspect, saying that her
son had refused to listen to her in the past.
Given the national climate of fear, Mr. Sarkozy met with Jewish and
Muslim leaders in Paris on Wednesday morning and called for restraint
and solidarity among the populace. “We must be united,” he said in a
brief address. “We must yield neither to easy falsehoods nor to
Before meeting with Mr. Sarkozy, Richard Prasquier, the national head
of the Crif, a prominent Jewish organization, said: “It is absolutely
excluded that we confuse this character — and the Islamist, jihadist,
Al Qaeda-linked movement he represents — and the Islam of France,
which is a religion like all other religions.”
Mohammed Moussaoui, the president of the French Council for the
Muslim Faith, who also met with Mr. Sarkozy, said, “These acts are in
total contradiction with the foundations of this religion.” And the
head of the Grand Mosque in Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, urged France not
to stigmatize Muslims, saying “99.9 percent” are law-abiding and
There was similar anxiety on the streets of Paris. Farouk, 25, who
has a long beard and asked that his surname not be used, said that
people in the North African Muslim community here “are disgusted with
what has happened — it’s we who suffer, it’s we who will be
criticized.” Racism, he said, “has a new face: Islamophobia, and it
will be accentuated now.”
Said Meghani, 44, a professor of mathematics in Lille, said “I wish
the European population would understand that Muslims themselves are
also victims of terrorism and of radical Islam.” He was angry, he
said, at Muslims who commit such crimes. “They use religion to spread
their murderous ideology.”
Mr. Meghani said that Francee has a duty to “watch” people who “have
come from Afghanistan or Pakistan,” but that France “should also take
them and indoctrinate them,” as a preventive measure. “It is here
where the state has failed.”
The shootings of the paratroopers, who were attacked in separate
episodes in Toulouse and Montauban, were not linked to their ethnic
backgrounds, Interior Minister Claude Guéant insisted. The three dead
soldiers were of Arab origin, and a black soldier is in critical
Mr. Sarkozy had ordered the region’s security alert to “scarlet” —
its highest level — for the manhunt. That is one step short of a
formal state of emergency, giving security forces wide powers that
include the authority to close some public places, to halt and search
public transportation networks, and to deploy combined patrols of
police officers and soldiers. The police were ordered to guard Muslim
and Jewish schools and places of worship across the region.
Before the authorities said on Wednesday that their prime suspect
claimed ties to Al Qaeda, many analysts had speculated that he had
perhaps been motivated by extreme right-wing passions coinciding with
the next month’s presidential election, and most of the candidates
have suspended their campaigns.
In addition to Mr. Sarkozy, who is trying to draw voters from the far-
right National Front Party, Wednesday’s funeral for the soldiers in
Montauban was attended by several other candidates, including the
Socialist frontrunner François Hollande and the National Front’s
Marine Le Pen.
Scott Sayare reported from Toulouse, and Steven Erlanger from Paris.
Maïa de la Baume and Sophie Cohen contributed reporting from Paris,
and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 21, 2012
An earlier version of this article gave the wrong name for the
spokesman for Interior Minister Claude Guéant. He is Pierre-Henry
Brandet, not Pierre-Henri Grandet. (Copyright 2012 The New York Times
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