|The metro in Toulouse: France a year after the Islamist killing of, first, soldiers, then children [Image Source]|
Three suspected Islamist militants arrested in southern France appeared to be planning an attack in the days ahead, the Paris prosecutor said on Monday, the anniversary of an al Qaeda-inspired shooting that rocked France. Police found weapons and explosives at the home of one of the suspects in the town of Marignane, near Marseille, and intercepted communications between the men suggested they were close to going into action, prosecutor Francois Molins said. The three men, who were taken in for questioning last week with a fourth man who was later released, were to be placed under formal investigation later on Monday... The timing of the arrests was poignant, coming exactly a year after 23-year-old gunman Mohamed Merah began a rampage that killed three Jewish children, a rabbi and three soldiers in the southern city of Toulouse. He was subsequently tracked down and killed in a shootout with police... Molins said the arrested men, in their 20s, wanted to emulate Merah. "It was clear they were training themselves in making explosives based on a jihadist radicalisation, a glorification of Mohamed Merah, and an affirmed desire to go into action."A year after the murderous Merah rampage, TIME Magazine reviewed what we more-or-less know now.
- 12 months after the series of attacks — which concluded with Merah’s own death after a 32-hour siege — the country is still learning details about the self-proclaimed al-Qaeda member’s transformation from petty hood to violent jihadist. Perhaps most disturbing among those revelations are indications that the nation’s domestic intelligence agency identified Merah as a potential security risk as early as 2007, yet failed to prevent the mass killings of March 2012.
- The latest evidence arose March 10, when the regional French channel France 3 Midi-Pyrénées revealed documents showing security forces had begun taking notice of Merah’s ties to extremists in Toulouse as early as October 2006. Though that initial file focused mainly on the higher-profile militants that Merah was in contact with, it did contain a photo of the smiling 18-year-old holding a Koran in one hand and a large knife in the other.
- By May 2007, the France 3 report noted, a second brief devoted primarily to Merah described the youth as a “radical jihadi” who “recently joined this [Salafi] movement” police had infiltrated.
- That online report came ahead of France 3’s March 11 broadcast of a documentary casting additional doubt on the official theory that Merah had been a lone wolf who’d prepared and carried out his three gun attacks alone — making detection by security forces nearly impossible. That version has been fiercely defended by authorities in former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative government, who deny that lax oversight was in any way responsible for Merah’s deadly spree.
- That position has been challenged by families of victims, investigative journalists, and even members of the security forces, who argue that the intelligence services underestimated the threat Merah represented.
- Identified by intelligence agencies during two different trips to Pakistan, Merah told investigators in France that his final visit in 2011 — just months before his killing campaign began — had been dedicated to tourism and his search for a wife. Indeed, during his negotiations with police during the siege leading up to his death, Merah mocked the intelligence agent who had questioned him upon his return from Pakistan in October 2011. He said, rather than sightseeing and looking for a marriage match, he had visited what he said were al-Qaeda handlers, receiving instruction and training for the gun attacks.
- Evidence has also emerged in the year since Merah had far more contacts with suspected radicals than initially thought and had used evasive measures to telephone them without being detected.
- In comments earlier this month, France’s Socialist Interior Minister Manuel Valls acknowledged that his predecessors had made “errors, failings, and faults” in handling Merah...