French police grill "proud" brother of Toulouse gunman
Mar 24, 2012, 18:02 GMT
Paris - French anti-terrorism police were Saturday questioning the brother of Mohamed Merah to determine whether he had a hand in the seven killings for which the Islamist gunman claimed responsibility before being shot dead by police in a siege.
Abdelkader Merah, 29, and his wife, have been in police custody since Wednesday, when security forces began their operation to try arrest his brother at his home in Toulouse.
The couple were flown to Paris Saturday for further questioning before the four-day deadline for their detention without charge expires early Sunday.
Le Point news magazine quoted sources as saying Merah told police he was 'proud' of his brother's acts while denying any knowledge of the killings.
Merah, a 23-year-old Franco-Algerian with a history of delinquency, told police he acted alone in carrying out the execution-style killings of three soldiers, three children and a rabbi that he filmed.
He said he did not inform his brother.
The Colt 45 pistol used in the three attacks was found in his car, France Info radio reported Saturday.
But questions are being asked as to how the jobless panelbeater, who claimed links to al-Qaeda, managed to amass an arsenal of weapons that included three submachine guns and two pistols, without financial or logistical support.
The elder Merah is described by police as a fundamentalist, who could have indoctrinated his brother.
In 2007, he was investigated for links to a French group that supplied would-be jihadists to Iraq but he was never charged. On Wednesday, police found what they believe were traces of explosives in his car.
Le Parisien newspaper reported that the elder Merah's phone was located near the site of the attack on a Jewish school Monday, and that the two brothers had dined together the night before.
Meanwhile, Merah's mother, Zoulikha Aziri, who was also detained on Wednesday, was released Friday evening without charge. Her lawyer Jean-Yves Gougnaud said she was devastated by a 'sense of guilt and remorse' over her son's actions.
Merah's uncle told Le Point magazine that his nephew had always been 'unstable' but that he could 'never have imagined' him to be the so-called scooter killer.
'Religion has nothing to do with this. He got worked up all by himself,' the brother of Merah's mother said.
On the political front, the handling of the investigation into the killings and of the raid were being used to score points in the country's presidential campaign.
Several candidates have questioned why police failed to identify Merah as a suspect after the first two attacks on paratroopers.
Merah was known to intelligence services as having spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan - trips he convinced intelligence agents were for tourism.
'The government must ensure the safety of French people. That's its mission,' Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, Sarkozy's main rival in next month's election, said.
Security experts have also questioned why the police did not try to overpower Merah by introducing gas into his apartment at the outset of the raid.
Sarkozy, who has taken a tough stance on crime, sprang to defence of the police, telling a rally near Paris he would let no-one question the honour of the men who ended 'the path of a monstrous individual.'
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