Peter Wilson, in The Weekend Australian 24-25 March 2012
SEVEN-TIME killer Mohamed Merah could have posted on the internet the horrific video footage that he took of all his murders, according to anxious French authorities.
Police and intelligence officials in Paris fear the footage might surface on the internet despite their success in tracking down the Islamic extremist who was killed during a blazing gun battle at his apartment in Toulouse, southern France. Authorities fear the videos of the first al-Qa’ida-inspired murders on French soil could become a grisly rallying point for extremists and an affront to the victims’ families. Prosecutor Francois Molins said he had already watched the footage, which was filmed by a wide-angle lens strapped to Merah’s chest and was found in a camera the killer had left with a friend. The most distressing images showed Merah, 23, chasing eight-year-old Miriam Monsonego outside her Jewish school on Monday, catching her by the hair and calmly shooting her in the head.
In all seven murders Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent, held his .45 Colt handgun so close to his victims’ heads that their skin was burned by the gun flash.
Mr Molins said the first piece of footage showed Merah pointing the gun at a French soldier of North African descent on March 11 and saying: “If you kill my brothers, I kill you.” Claiming later that he wanted to punish the French military for its overseas activities and to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children, Merah could be heard on a second video yelling “Allahu akbar!” or “God is great!” as he drove away on a scooter after killing two more soldiers and injuring a fourth on March 15.
Mr Molins refused to describe a third video recording the deaths of young Miriam and Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and his sons, Gavriel, 4, and Aryeh, 5. Releasing details of the final assault on Merah’s apartment after a 300-officer siege that lasted 33 hours, Mr Molins said Merah had spent the final 12 hours sitting silently and motionless in his bathroom. He had taken refuge there from stun grenades that the police fired periodically into the apartment to disorient him after they had cut off the gas and power.
When police commandos entered the flat they pushed a video probe into the bathroom, prompting him to burst out, firing ferociously. He had earlier warned negotiators he would not surrender, vowing the showdown in the cold, dark flat would end with his death or that of the police. “If it’s me, too bad, I will go to paradise. If it’s you, too bad for you,” Merah said, according to Mr Molins.
Wearing a bullet-proof vest under a traditional black djellaba robe, he fired about 30 shots, hitting one commando in the foot and leaving another in hospital with severe shock. Merah had injured a further three officers at the start of the siege, shooting one in the knee, one in the shoulder and another in the chest. Still firing a .45 handgun, he charged out of a ground-floor window on to a balcony where he was hit in the head by a waiting sniper, falling 1.5m to the ground.
While police said they were urgently investigating whether he had any accomplices, opposition politicians demanded to know how he had amassed an arsenal of at least eight weapons – including a pump-action shotgun, a high-velocity Kalashnikov, an Uzi machine gun and several .45 Colts – despite being on intelligence watch lists for more than a year after visiting Pakistan and Afghanistan to train with extremists.
Authorities in Washington revealed he had even been on a US “no-fly” list “for some time”, meaning he was deemed too dangerous to board any aircraft heading to or from the US.
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said intelligence agents had interviewed Merah in November about a second visit he had made to Pakistan and Afghanistan but he told them he had been on holiday, producing photos to back his story. Mr Gueant rejected claims of slack security, saying the intelligence services “follow lots of people involved in radical Islam, (but) expressing ideas, espousing Salafist beliefs, is not a sufficient reason to arrest someone”.
Merah was tracked down after the intelligence services compared their watch lists with a list of the 576 people who had viewed an online advertisement for a motorbike being sold by the first soldier victim, who was killed by somebody who arranged an appointment to view the motorbike. “Since the (intelligence service) was following Mohamed Merah for a year, how come they took so long to locate him?” asked Socialist Party security spokesman Francois Rebsamen.
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said: “One can ask the question whether there was a failure or not. We need to bring some clarity to this.”