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Toulouse killer's brother charged in shootings

27 march 2012, 13:28
0
Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah. ©AFP
Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah. ©AFP
The brother of an Islamist gunman whose grisly murder spree shocked France was charged Sunday with complicity in the attacks, but his lawyer said he should not be made a scapegoat, AFP reports.

Abdelkader Merah denied any involvement in the shootings of three French soldiers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a trainee rabbi -- attacks claimed by his younger brother Mohammed Merah, 23.

Merah, who said he had links to Al-Qaeda, died Thursday in an exchange of gunfire ater a prolonged stand-off with police at his Toulouse apartment.

His elder brother had reportedly said he was "proud" of Merah's actions -- a claim his lawyer Anne Sophie Laguens sought to dispel after Abdelkader was charged on Sunday.

"He is not at all proud of the acts of his brother, like was said in the press," she told reporters in Paris. "He strongly condemns them. He hopes he doesn't become a scapegoat."

Her client denies all charges against him, she added.

Abdelkader Merah, 29, has become a focus of the investigation into his brother's deadly rampage, the worst terror attacks in France in recent years.

Police and prosecutors have described Abdelkader Merah as a more radical Islamist than his brother and said he has long been known to police for his "fundamentalist religious convictions", a police source said.

Police knew about the elder brother since 2007, when he allegedly helped jihadists get to Iraq. He is considered a hardline Islamist who pushed Mohamed Merah in an increasingly radical direction, a police source said.

The elder Merah and his girlfriend, Yamina Mesbah, were taken in for questioning Wednesday. Mesbah was released without charge Sunday but Abdelkader Merah was taken from the French police's anti-terrorist headquarters in a Paris suburb to face an investigating judge in the city's central courts.

He was indicted for complicity in the murders and conspiracy to prepare acts of terrorism.

As police surrounded his Toulouse apartment last week, Mohamed Merah claimed responsibility for the three attacks.

In the first two shootings he targeted soldiers on the streets, then last week he attacked a Jewish school.

Police have said he filmed his three attacks with a camera strapped to his body and investigators said Sunday he had planned to post footage online and use the Internet to claim responsibility for the carnage.

Thousands of people across France paid homage to the victims Sunday, including in Paris and in Toulouse, where crowds, many of them clasping roses, walked silently through the district that witnessed the attack on the Jewish school.

"We're marching this afternoon to defend the values of France we love: Solidarity, respect for others, justice," France's head rabbi Pierre Cohen said.

Mohamed Merah, who was labelled a "monster" by President Nicolas Sarkozy, told police during the siege he regretted not having killed more Jewish children, a report said Sunday.

Unnamed police officers also told the Journal du Dimanche he said he had planned to carry out attacks in Paris.

Police said Abdelkader Merah had admitted to accompanying his brother to a Yamaha dealership where Mohamed Merah asked how to deactivate the GPS on a scooter he had just stolen.

Abdelkader Merah also told police he was present when his brother stole the powerful scooter.

His girlfriend, Mesbah, believed to have married Abdelkader in a religious ceremony not recognised under French law, knew nothing about Mohamed Merah's activities and saw her husband's arrest like "a bomb blowing up in her face", her lawyer said.

Authorities have yet to confirm a motive, but said Mohamed Merah claimed to be an Al-Qaeda member killing to avenge Palestinian children and punish France for sending troops to Afghanistan.

He told police he had bought his weapons using money from burglaries and hold-ups, according to France's national intelligence coordinator Ange Mancini.

Mohamed's mother Zoulhika Aziri, released without charge on Friday after questioning, was "wracked with guilt and remorse" over her son's actions, her lawyer said. Fearing reprisals, she would not return home.

Sarkozy held an emergency meeting Saturday with Prime Minister Francois Fillon and cabinet ministers to discuss security issues amid criticism of the way police handled the affair.

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