Photo by Eric Cabanis/AFP/Getty Images.
UPDATE: Al Jazeera announced Tuesday that it will not air a video it received showing the killings of seven people in southwest France earlier this month.
In a statement to other media outlets, the cable news channel said that broadcasting the video would not stand up to its code of ethics and that the images would not provide information on the killings that wasn’t already in the public domain.
Al Jazeera says that the video, which was titled "Al Qaeda attaque la France" (translation: al-Qaida attacks France), was dropped off at its Paris bureau. It is said to show the killings of the French paratroopers and those from the Jewish school in Toulouse in chronological order. It does not, however, show the face of the gunman, Mohammed Merah.
Al Jazeera with more:
The package, which also contained a letter written in poor French with spelling and grammar errors, was dated March 21—the day police surrounded Merah in his apartment in Toulouse after a massive manhunt.
Zied Tarrouche, Al Jazeera's Paris bureau chief, said the images were a bit shaky but of a high technical quality. He also said the video had clearly been manipulated after the fact, with religious songs and recitations of Quranic verses laid over the footage.
The report also notes that a French official close to the investigation has said the package was not sent by Merah.
In related news, Merah’s father, who was estranged from his son and lives in Algeria, has threatened to sue the Republique for his son’s death. Our francophone readers can read an Explainer on whether the lawsuit could even take place, and more about the Toulouse shootings in general, at Slate.fr.
In addition, more information is emerging about Merah, the 23-year-old gunman.
Reuters reports this week that Merah had visited the Israeli-occupied West Bank in 2010, although not much information is known yet about this visit. The Israeli security official who briefed the press about the trip said only that Merah had stayed for three days and had come over via Jordan. It is still unclear whether Merah visited Israel, which is next to the West Bank.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post has more on Merah’s background, noting this week that French police had known of Merah since at least 2005, when he was convicted as a minor for receiving stolen property. But it appears that the French-born Merah was lost to France’s counterterrorism authorities until November 2010, when they were alerted by U.S. officials that Merah had visited southern Afghanistan. You can read more about Merah’s travels to Afghanistan, and also Pakistan, here.
A memorial attended by roughly 30 people, mostly young girls, was held for Merah in the quarter in which he grew up on Saturday, reports French Reuters.
Friday, March 23, at 11:36 a.m.: During the 32-hour standoff that led to his death, Mohamed Merah described himself as an "Islamist" with connections to al-Qaida. But French investigators said Friday that they haven't found any evidence that Merah, who killed seven around Toulouse, was working with any terrorist group.
The Associated Press reports that French officials say that it appears that Merah may have been self-radicalized, and apparently acted more or less on his own, despite his claims and those made by a group with ties to al-Qaida.
An unnamed senior French official told the AP they've found no evidence that Merah had "trained or been in contact with organized groups or jihadists," and that Merah may have faked or exaggerated his connections to al-Qaida because of its "brand."
In a series of shootings beginning earlier in March, Merah killed three French paratroopers, and then attacked a Jewish school, killing four on Monday. He said he was seeking revenge for the deaths of Palestinian children, and for French military intervention overseas. Merah was a French national of Algerian heritage.
Thursday, March 22: After a 32-hour standoff, Mohamed Merah, the 23-year-old man believed to be responsible for Monday's deadly shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, was shot in the head by French police Thursday morning as he jumped from the window of his apartment, the AFP reports.
Merah was wanted in the deaths of seven people: three French soldiers, as well as three children and a rabbi killed outside a Jewish school, all in the Toulouse area. Merah had described himself as an "Islamist," and said he was seeking revenge for the deaths of Palestinian children, and for the actions of French military forces abroad. He was a French national of Algerian heritage.
Police and reporters followed Merah's every move as a standoff that began early Wednesday morning stretched into a second day. Merah had repeatedly promised to surrender himself to police at nightfall, but as the hours passed never did.
The Telegraph reports that police intermittently set off loud explosions overnight to prevent Merah from sleeping in the lead-up to the Thursday morning raid.
The Guardian has more details from the scene: as police entered and searched the apartment Merah "burst" out of the bathroom, apparently wearing a bullet-proof vest. He fired 30 shots at the officers, and had Molotov cocktails and more ammunition stored in the apartment. He reportedly continued to fire at officers as he jumped out of the window of his apartment, at which point he was shot in the head. Five policemen sustained minor injuries in the Thursday raid.
Meanwhile, French daily Le Figaro reported Thursday that a group with ties to al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for the school shooting and the slaying of the military officers. In a message posted on a website where al-Qaida announcements are common, the group known as the "Soldiers of the Caliphate" called Merah a "knight of Islam" and threatened that if France does not reevaluate its "hostile" politics toward Muslims, the country would face "misfortune and destruction."
Merah was also reportedly on the U.S.'s no-fly list. The Wall Street Journal with more details:
Two people familiar with the case said Mohammed Merah was on the list because in 2010 he had been in custody in Afghanistan, then sent back to France. Counterterrorism officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which manages the U.S. no-fly list, also had collected information on Mr. Merah before the recent shootings in France, including the 2010 encounter, officials said.
French prosecutor Francois Molins has also confirmed that Merah did indeed film all three attacks. Molins said in a press conference Thursday that in one video, Merah says “you kill my brothers, so I’m killing you,” to one of the military officers killed in Toulouse. For more information on the standoff, the gunman and the shooting, francophone readers can check out this live-feed from Slate.fr.
Wednesday, March 21, 12:27 p.m.: The latest news out of France suggests that the police standoff with the gunman believed to have been behind Monday's deadly shooting at a Jewish school will continue for at least several more hours, but that authorities are optimistic that the suspect will surrender later Wednesday.
A French prosecutor tells the AFP that the suspect is expected to surrender "late this evening." Toulouse is five hours ahead of the east coast.
Officials had previously said that they would give him until 2:30 p.m. local time to surrender before officers would storm the building. It was not immediately clear what prompted the police to extend the deadline.
In a press conference, French prosecutor Francois Molins gave some more details on Merah: He's been to Afghanistan twice, the U.S. army sent him back to France after he was arrested in Afghanistan, and Merah says he's been trained by Al-Qaida in the Pakistan region of Waziristan.
According to Molins, Merah has said that he would prefer to remain alive: "He said he does not have a suicidal spirit, he did not have a martyr's soul, he preferred to kill and remain alive." (via the AFP)
In other news concerning the French gunman, police have also found the motorcycle believed to be used in the shootings, along with 2 helmets, based on directions given by Merah. The gunman says he has stashed weapons in two vehicles, which police are looking for, according to the Guardian.
Wednesday, March 21, 10:15 a.m.: French police on Wednesday reportedly cornered a man they believe is responsible for Monday's deadly shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, as well as pair of other attacks that killed three paratroopers.
The Associated Press reports that police have recently been in contact with the suspect, who has been holed up in his apartment while surrounded by an elite French police unit for several hours. The suspect exchanged gunfire with the officers earlier Wednesday morning.
According to the AP, "hundreds" of riot police are preparing to storm the apartment building if the suspect does not surrender soon. The building, and the block surrounding it, have been evacuated. The suspect exchanged a handgun for a device to talk to authorities earlier in the standoff, but is believed to have additional firearms in the apartment.
French media have named the suspect as Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old French national of Algerian descent, who has identified himself as an "Islamist" with connections to al-Qaida. He reportedly told police he wanted to take revenge for the killing of Palestinian children, and was angry about French military intervention in the Middle East.
According to Sky News, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Jewish leaders Wednesday morning that Merah had planned another attack for today. According to Nicole Yardeni of the CRIF Jewish group, Sarkozy said the gunman "already had a plan to kill again" and "he planned to kill this morning."
Reuters reports that a man with the same name escaped from a Kandahar prison in 2008 when the Taliban raided the facility, freeing several hundred inmates. He was arrested for carrying equipment to make a bomb. But there seems to be some confusion over whether it's the same man as the one in the current standoff: the AP says it's not, but many media outlets and some French officials have picked up on the possible connection.
French officials have said that Merah was likely "radicalized" in Toulouse, before traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to the Guardian's live feed of the standoff. He was apparently being monitored by French security services, but it's not clear how they missed his preparations for the attacks in southwest France, which left a total of seven dead.
We'll update here with the latest developments in the police standoff. For those of you who speak French, Slate.fr has tons more info here, including a round-up of everything they know about the suspect and how he was tracked down.
Tuesday, March 20: A day after the deadly shooting at a Jewish school in France left 4 dead, including 3 children, French authorities announced Tuesday that the lone gunman was wearing a camera around his neck at the time of the shooting, prompting speculation that he might have filmed the bloodshed.
Interior Minister Claude Guéant told a French radio station that surveillance footage take by school security cameras show what appeared to be a video camera strapped to the gunman's chest, reports the New York Times, which called the school shooting "the most deadly attack against Jews in France in 30 years."
French authorities are still looking for the killer, while the "scarlet" level alert, just one step short of a formal state of emergency, remains in place. As the BBC explains, that alert level allows authorities to "disrupt daily life and implement sweeping security measures, including mixed police-military patrols, powers to suspend public transport and close schools."
On Monday, President Sarkozy announced he had sent officers to guard all Jewish and Muslim schools and places of worship in the southwestern region until the killer is stopped.
The Times spoke with a local Jewish leader who had seen the video surveillance of the killing of the final victim in Monday’s shooting. The paper paraphrased her account like so:
The suspect pursued his last victim, an 8-year-old girl, into the concrete courtyard, seizing and stopping her by her hair.... His gun appeared to jam at that point ...Still holding the girl, the killer then changed weapons, from what police identified as a 9 millimeter pistol to the .45-caliber. He shot her in the head and left, never removing his motorcycle helmet.
The gunman has also been linked to a pair of attacks last week that killed three paratroopers. The suspect appears to have followed a similar methodical approach in those attacks—using the same weapon, riding the same stolen scooter and wearing a motorcycle helmet throughout. The slain soldiers were all north African or black. So far, no one has come up to claim responsibility for any of the murders.
Meanwhile, France Info reports that between 5,000 and 8,000 people participated in a “silent march” in Paris on Monday evening, brandishing both Israeli and French flags, in hommage to those killed in the attacks.
Earlier Monday evening, a memorial took place in Paris’ Nazareth synagogue, with Sarkozy, Prime Minister François Fillon, and socialist presidential contender François Hollande among those present. Thousands of French reportedly paid their respects outside the synagogue, unable to enter the packed building.
Memorials seemed to extend to French media as the daily Libération dedicated its entire front page Tuesday in tribute to those murdered seemingly by the same killer, the seven names in simple white font over a black page. You can view a round-up of Tuesday's front pages from international media at Slate.fr.
N.B: There were initial conflicting reports of the spelling of the gunman's name and his age. The gunman's name was Mohamed Merah, and he was 23.