Toulouse killer shot dead in police raid
A man suspected of murdering soldiers, a rabbi and three young children has been killed by French police after a 32-hour siege. His terrorist rampage has caused a fierce political row.
One of the largest manhunts in French history came to a blood-soaked conclusion yesterday morning. After tracking their suspect to an apartment on the outskirts of Toulouse, police commandos launched a raid which left five officers injured, and the wanted man dead.
Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian origin, is thought to have been the man behind three shootings that have shocked the country. In two attacks last week, Merah killed three soldiers, all of North African origin.
Then, on Monday, he attacked a Jewish school, killing a rabbi and three children. His youngest victim was just four years old.
By that time, detectives were getting closer to tracking the killer down. Computer records, phone logs and sightings of the killer’s getaway scooter led police to the flat where Merah was hiding.
The first officers to knock on the suspect’s door were met with a burst of gunfire. It was only 32 hours later that heavily armed police moved cautiously into the apartment. All was silent, as they cleared the rooms one by one. Then, Merah burst out of the bathroom where he had been hiding, spraying bullets wildly from two weapons in an astonishingly violent assault before hurling himself out of a first floor window, firing as he fell.
But there was to be no dramatic getaway. According to French officials, Merah was shot in the head by a police sniper, and was probably dead before he hit the ground.
A murderer is dead. The pain suffered by the families of his victims will not be wiped away so easily.
And the political and social implications of Merah’s rampage are only just beginning to emerge. Before he died, he boasted to police negotiators of being a ‘jihadist’ and an al Qaeda operative. He had, reports confirm, travelled to Afghanistan, probably for terrorist training.
For France’s five or six million Muslims, this CV makes for grim reading. Immigration, especially from Muslim North Africa, had already been one of the hottest issues in France’s upcoming presidential elections. Merah’s actions – and his twisting of Islam to justify them – are likely to make the debate even more bitter.
Fists or open arms?
Already, the battle lines are drawn. Right-wing French commentators say Merah’s atrocity is proof of the dangers of multiculturalism. French values must be defended more robustly, they argue. Hate preachers, internet radicals and terrorist recruiters must be actively pursued – and uprooted from the society which they so despise.
On the left, the response is the opposite. An atmosphere of suspicion and hostility only pushes young Muslims towards crime and violence, the thinking goes. Measures seen to target the North African community will only make things worse in the end.
- How should the French government respond to the Merah shootings?
- Was Mohammed Merah mad or evil? Is it possible to be both?
- What caused Mohammed Merah to go on his shooting rampage? Write a list of the five most important reasons, then compare your list with others in the class.
- Research and write a short newspaper-style obituary of Mohammed Merah.
Some People Say...
“Mohammed Merah was just insane. Politics and religion had nothing to do with it.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Is it just France that is wrestling with questions about immigration?
- Not at all. The UK confronted the same issues after four young British Muslims from the Leeds area detonated suicide bombs on the London Underground in July 2005. Attacks by ‘homegrown’ terrorists are always particularly worrying for police.
- Is it always Muslim communities that are involved?
- No, although Islamist extremism has been a particular concern for the last decade or so. Before that, Catholic extremists from Northern Ireland were involved in attacks. In the USA, meanwhile, most homegrown terrorism has come from white supremacists.
- Algerian origin
- Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, the countries of the North African Maghreb region, have all at one point been ruled by France, and retain French as an official language. As a result, immigration to France from these ex-colonies has been particularly high.
- Astonishingly violent assault
- Merah’s arsenal of weapons, bought with proceeds from armed robberies, included an AK-47 rifle and an Uzi machine pistol, as well as smaller handguns. An officer at the scene said he had ‘never seen’ such violence.
- Five or six million
- French law forbids the government from officially asking for information on religion or ethnicity. The idea is that everyone is equally a French citizen in the eyes of the law, regardless of background. As a result, there are no official figures for the Muslim or North African population in France.