No proof French shootings suspect had ties to Al Qaeda

News Agencies – March 23, 2012

French authorities have no evidence that Al Qaeda commissioned a French gunman to go on a killing spree that left seven people dead, or that he had any contact with terrorist groups, a senior official said. France’s prime minister and other officials have been fending off suggestions that anti-terrorism authorities fell down on the job in monitoring 23-year-old Mohamed Merah, who had been known to them for years before he went on three deadly shooting attacks from a motorcycle.

Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, was killed in a dramatic gunfight with police after a 32-hour standoff at his Toulouse apartment with police. Prosecutors said he filmed himself carrying out the attacks that began March 11, killing three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three French paratroopers with close-range shots to the head. Another Jewish student and another paratrooper were wounded.

A senior official who is close to the investigation into Merah said there was no sign he had “trained or been in contact with organized groups or jihadists.” Merah had travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and prosecutors said he had claimed contacts with Al Qaeda and to have trained in the Pakistan militant stronghold of Waziristan. He had been on a U.S. no-fly list since 2010. The official said Merah might have made the claim because Al Qaeda is a well-known “brand.”