Mohammed Merah appears to have escaped in this prison break orchestrated by the Taliban. He then melted back into French society, until he decided to make another move. That will surely be the subject of investigations to come. “French shooting suspect was under surveillance,” from Reuters, March 21:
REUTERS – For Mohamed Merah, the Frenchman suspected of killing four Jews and three Muslim soldiers in southwestern France, the road to radicalisation ran from Toulouse to Kandahar in Afghanistan.
Merah, 24, who was holed up in a suburban Toulouse apartment on Wednesday, besieged by police commandos from the elite RAID unit, claimed affiliation with al Qaeda and said he wanted to avenge Palestinian children, French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said.
The suspect, a French citizen of Algerian origin, had been under surveillance by France’s domestic intelligence service for several years after being identified in Afghanistan. But he led a normal life of soccer and night clubbing, according to friends and neighbours who had no idea that he had been in Afghanistan.
Merah had a police record for several minor offences, some involving violence, Gueant told reporters, “but there was no evidence that he was planning such criminal actions.”
As police psychologists tried to talk him into surrendering peacefully, Merah gave the same impression of calm determination and self-control as the gunman on a scooter recorded by security cameras at the Ozer Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday.
“With the RAID negotiators, he explained a lot about his itinerary,” Gueant said.
“His radicalisation took place in a Salafist ideological group and seems to have been firmed up by two journeys he made to Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
During one of those trips, Merah was arrested in Kandahar and sentenced to three years in prison for planting bombs in the province but escaped in a mass Taliban jail break in 2008, the director of Kandahar prison told Reuters.
Ghulam Faruq said Merah was detained by Afghan security services on Dec. 19, 2007. Afghan intelligence officials passed on his identity to their French counterparts, a security source said.
Trained with Taliban?
The daily Le Monde said Merah had trained with Pakistani Taliban fighters in a border tribal zone before being sent into southwestern Afghanistan to fight against NATO forces supporting the Kabul government.
French troops are part of that NATO operation, which may explain why the first victims of the gunman’s killing spree were serving paratroopers killed in Toulouse on March 11 and Montauban on March 15.
French intelligence sources said about 30 French fighters trained by the Taliban were believed to have taken part in attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan.
Gueant said the Salafist group to which Merah belonged had no official name and had never given any indication of turning to criminal activity. Police were still trying to determine whether the gunman acted alone or as part of a group. […]
Merah’s profile is typical of hundreds of second- or third-generation French immigrants from North Africa who have travelled to Afghanistan or Pakistan over the last two decades attracted by militant Islamist groups, security officials say. […]
On his return to Toulouse, Merah led a normal life.
Cedric Lambert, 46, father of an upstairs neighbour, said Merah was friendly and had helped them about 10 months ago to carry a heavy sofa upstairs.
“He was extremely normal,” Lambert said….