France Eases Terror Alert (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By NADYA MASIDLOVER PARIS, FRANCE 03/24/12 1:33 p.m. ET)
WALL STREET JOURNAL
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PARIS—The French Interior Ministry on Saturday said it downgraded a
terror alert that had been in effect in Toulouse since a shooter
Monday attacked a Jewish school, lowering it a notch from the
maximum "scarlet" to "red."
French prosecutors, meanwhile, said they continue to investigate
whether Mohamed Merah, who police say claimed responsibility for
seven killings—three children and a teacher at the school and three
soldiers in other attacks—had any accomplices. Mr. Merah was shot
dead by SWAT police on Thursday.
Mr. Merah´s mother, who had been detained since Wednesday when her
son barricaded himself in a small Toulouse apartment, was released
from police custody, a spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor said on
Saturday. Her lawyer, Jean-Yves Gougnaud, said in an interview on
French television that she told him "she saw nothing coming" and felt
guilty for what had happened.
Prosecutors said they are now focusing their probe on Mr. Merah´s
older brother, Abdelkader Merah, who has also been in police custody
since Wednesday and was flown to the headquarters of the
antiterrorist police near Paris on Saturday.
French daily Le Parisien said in an article published Saturday citing
police sources that Mr. Merah has told investigators that he didn´t
know anything in advance about his brother´s alleged attacks on
soldiers and the Jewish school.
The older Mr. Merah, however, told investigators that he was "proud"
of his brother´s alleged actions, the Le Parisien article said. The
older Mr. Merah also said that he was with his brother when a scooter
used in the attacks was allegedly stolen.
Prosecutors declined to comment on the Le Parisien article. It wasn´t
clear whether Mr. Merah has legal representation.
Mr. Merah´s older brother had been on the radar of French
antiterrorist agencies because he allegedly helped Islamic militants
travel illegally from Europe to Iraq in 2007, police officials have
said. The brother was never prosecuted or charged, they said.
Prosecutors said this week that what focused police attention on the
older Mr. Merah was that around that time he had sent a small amount
of money to an inmate convicted for being part of a jihad network.
French prosecutors have characterized the older Mr. Merah as a
Salafist, referring to a sect that has a radical practice of Islam
but isn´t known for being violent.
In a parallel effort, French investigators say they are also trying
to firm up their conviction that the suspected killer had no
connection to al Qaeda and did not train with Taliban groups, though
he travelled to Afghanistan in 2010, and to Pakistan in 2011.
During the 33-hour-long siege of his Toulouse apartment that ended on
Thursday, Mr. Merah, according to the SWAT police, said that he
belonged to al Qaeda and had been trained by the organization.
France and the U.S. have said that they have no evidence to support
Mr. Merah was never a member of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Saturday, referring to
the name that the Taliban leadership uses to describe itself.
Pakistan authorities have said they had found no trace of Mr. Merah
in their files. "He´s not in our databank nor was he ever on our
radar," an officer with Pakistan´s Inter-Services Intelligence
Directorate military spy agency said on Friday.
—Habib Khan Totakhil contributed to this article. (Copyright © Dow
Jones & Company, Inc.) 03/24/12)
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