French reject charges of inaction in Toulouse terror (HAŽARETZ NEWS) By Shirli Sitbon 03/25/12)
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PARIS - Mohamed Merah´s killing spree this month in southwest France
set off shockwaves, and three days after he died in a police raid of
his Toulouse apartment the controversy continues to mount. He
perpetrated the first terror shooting at a French school, and people
in this country are asking whether the tragedy could have been
Meanwhile, marches against anti-Semitism and racism planned in
Toulouse and Paris today are expected to draw thousands.
Merah´s name was in French intelligence files, he was on the U.S. "no-
fly list" and some of his neighbors had complained to police about
his alleged violent behavior, yet France´s intelligence agencies did
not consider him a danger and never put him under surveillance.
The French authorities were quick to reject any accusations of
failure, saying there was nothing they could have done to prevent the
"Expressing ideas, espousing Salafist beliefs, is not a sufficient
reason to arrest someone," Interior Minister Claude Gueant said.
"In a country like ours it´s illegal to put a person under a 24-hour
watch unless he committed an offense, and you also need a judge´s
consent," Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Thursday.
He was soon called to speak in defense of the elite police unit that
conducted the raid. The initial goal was to capture Merah alive in
order to try him. But he was shot dead after a 32-hour siege of his
home. Some people said the police should have moved in earlier, while
others - including members of the Jewish and Muslim communities -
said police should have waited longer before launching the raid.
"Police have techniques to catch people alive," said Mehana Mouhou, a
lawyer for the family of Merah´s first victim, Sgt. Imad Ibn Ziaten
of the French Armed Forces. "They didn´t need to end this urgently.
They could have resumed negotiations. Now the family will never get
answers to their questions. They wanted to hear the murderer. They
wanted to see him convicted."
Christian Prouteau, who in the 1980s founded France´s elite GIGN
unit, said tear gas should have been pumped into Merah´s apartment in
order to subdue him.
The government´s reply was that the main goal of stopping Merah from
killing again was achieved.
"There´s a difference between the men of the RAID [elite police
unite] and their critics," Fillon said on Friday. "RAID officers look
death in the eye while the critics look at the images on television."
The French government appeared to be united behind security forces
and President Nicolas Sarkozy. A public opinion poll issued Friday
gave Sarkozy a 74-percent approval rating over his conduct during the
crisis (74% ); surveys indicate the tragedy could actually boost his
His party hopes the controversy will die down quickly.
In contrast to previous terror incidents in France, this time the
perpetrator´s family did not distance itself from him. Merah´s
brother said he was proud.
In some quarters Merah has been openly hailed as a hero. In
Sartrouville, near Paris, extremists tagged his name on walls,
together with anti-Semitic slogans. A Facebook fan page created in
his honor garnered 435 "likes" in just a few hours.
One French schoolteacher even suggested to her puzzled students to
observe a minute of silence for the killer, saying authorities set
him up. The government said in response that the teacher has
Many French fear more extremism, while Jews are concerned about
growing anti-Semitism. Dozens of Jewish tombs were desecrated in a
Nice cemetery last week. (© Copyright 2012 Ha´aretz 03/25/12)
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