A year after Mohamed Merah’s killing spree in Toulouse and its surroundings, the domestic anti-terrorist initiatives of the French intelligence services comes under criticism for the failures in the case. With problems in information sharing, lack of coordination and rivalries, French attempts to combat terrorism are criticised in front of the Committee of Inquiry which assesses the state’s intelligence operation a year after the Merah incident.
The tension between a variety of intelligence organs such as the police and military intelligence, who are all in charge with the monitoring of radicalization amongst Muslims in France, have according to the Committee of Inquiry contributed to failed discovery of Merah’s radicalisation and assassination plans.
As a result, the Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence (DCRI) assured last month in front of the Defence Committee of the French National Assembly to have reformed its services and widened its scope. In order to ease the coordination between intelligence cells, the position of a cross coordinator was created. Internal investigations have simultaneously led to the dismissal of several members of the intelligence service.
The case of a broader reform of the intelligence apparatus is expected to come to a conclusion by the end of March. Whilst reforms were introduced after the Merah incident, the judicial apparatus operated in full swing: accordingly, in 2012, 78 people were arrested in connection with the combat against jihadism in comparison to 47 in 2011. Thirty of them were referred to the public prosecutor in comparison to 21 a year before.
With transnational networks of jihadists rising, the fear of the intelligence apparatus to miss out on another case leads to increased scrutiny and harsher as well as quicker sentences being made.
08 February 2013
Spanish Police Force arrested yesterday in the city of Valencia a suspect of Islamic terrorism, a Moroccan citizen, Mohamed Echaabi.
The monitoring and control carried out by the National Police on the detainee and his activities, have confirmed his intentions to commit terrorist acts against personalities or other targets, according to the doctrine of the Global Jihad, both in Spain and in other European countries, for which the prisoner took steps to acquire firearms and explosives.
Mohamed Echaabi had undergone a process of radicalization by which he gained firm convictions that led him to leave Spain and travel to the Gaza Strip in January 2011, in order to carry out a suicidal action against Israeli interests.
Echaabi is considered by the police as a “lone wolf or a terrorist” recruited by terrorist networks, and self-radicalized through the Internet. Moreover, the alleged terrorist presented a profile almost identical to the one of French terrorist Mohamed Merah, author of several murders in Toulouse (France) in March 2012.
Following Mohamed Merah’s killing spree that caused the death of three French soldiers, three Jewish school children and a rabi on 11 March and 19 March 2012, expressions of radicalism against both Muslims and Jews have increased in and around Toulouse. In a report published by Libération, local authorities have revealed to have dealt with a number of incidents of radical grafiti that sometimes even glorified the hate crimes of Merah.
According to local prefect Henri-Michel Comet, expressions of violence against Islam and Judaism have dramatically increased after Merah’s attack. Toulouse’s district attorney Michel Valet further states that ‘’the Merah affair was a revelation and amplifier of the behaviour of some frail people’’.
France 24 – December 4, 2012
French police arrested two people in connection with the attacks by extremist gunman Mohamed Merah, whose shooting spree in and around the southern city of Toulouse this year left seven people dead. One man described by police as a member of the traveller community who converted to Islam was detained on suspicion of having provided aid to Merah in carrying out the March attacks that shocked France.
He was arrested without incident at his home in the town of Albi, about 70 kilometres (45 miles) northeast of Toulouse, where he was to be taken for questioning, police sources said. His former partner was arrested separately at her home in Toulouse, with police saying she may have been aware of his involvement and failed to inform authorities.
Since his shooting spree, it has become clear that Merah had been on the radar of France’s security services for years and that authorities under-estimated the extent of his radicalisation following his trips abroad. French intelligence services have been heavily criticised for failing to realise the threat posed by Merah.
French intelligence services curtailed supervision of Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah a few months before his shooting spree in Toulouse despite his known links to extremists, according to leaked documents. The reports from France’s DCRI domestic intelligence service, seen by AFP, show that Merah was under intense surveillance throughout 2011 but that agents decided to reduce monitoring.
They show that Merah, who had been under surveillance since 2006, was identified as a “privileged target” at the beginning of last year after returning from a trip to Afghanistan, where he was detained in November 2010. Surveillance from March to July indicated he was in regular contact with “the radical Islamist movement in Toulouse”, said he was showing “paranoid behaviour” and that he was receiving funds from extremists.
French intelligence services have been repeatedly criticised for failing to prevent Merah’s attacks. Merah, a self-described Al-Qaeda sympathiser, shot a rabbi, three Jewish schoolchildren and three French paratroopers in attacks in and around the southern city of Toulouse in March, before being shot dead in a police siege.
News Agencies – October 6, 2012
Police carried out raids across France on Saturday after DNA on a grenade that exploded last month at a kosher grocery store led them to a suspected jihadist cell of young Frenchmen recently converted to Islam. The man whose DNA was identified, named by police as Jeremy Sydney, was killed by police after he opened fire on them, slightly wounding three officers in the eastern city of Strasbourg. Officials said he had been under surveillance since last spring, around the time a French Islamic went on a shooting rampage against a Jewish school and French soldiers, killing seven people.
Paris prosecutor François Molins said all the arrested suspects were French and recent converts to Islam. They were all born in the 1980s or early 1990s. Four of the men involved in the raid had written wills.
The prosecutor was careful not to draw direct links between these arrests and Mohamed Merah, a young Frenchman of Algerian descent who died in a shootout with police in March after the killings in the south of France. That attack terrorized the French Jewish community, which has since ramped up security in many parts of the country.
News Agencies – June 20, 2012
French police have detained a gunman who held four people hostage at a bank in the southern city of Toulouse for almost seven hours. The man initially demanded money but when he was refused, a shot was fired and the hostages taken. Claiming to be linked to al-Qaeda, he demanded to speak to the elite Raid police unit that killed Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah nearby in March.
He freed two hostages before police stormed the bank and detained him. The gunman was said to have been wounded in the thigh, but not seriously. His two remaining hostages are not thought to have been harmed.
A police union source told the regional newspaper Ouest-France it was not clear whether the man’s claim about al-Qaeda was “serious or a fantasy”. The hostage-taker was believed to be around 30 years old and known to the authorities, Toulouse newspaper La Depeche reported. He was from Castres, to the east of Toulouse, and one source told the paper he was a schizophrenic who had broken off his treatment.
News Agencies – May 18, 2012
With reports of a terror attack plot being unearthed against its Embassy in Paris, India said the mission has been “fully alert” to security issues and was in touch with relevant French authorities in this regard. According to a media report, 23-year-old Algerian origin terrorist Mohamed Merah was found to have been plotting to attack the Indian Embassy in Paris on the direction of his Taliban handlers in Pakistan. Merah was was shot dead by French special forces two months ago.
Merah was killed after police and special forces laid an almost 32-hour siege of his apartment in Toulouse, after his armed attacks on a Jewish school and killing of army personnel outside their barracks on March 15.
May 4, 2012
A hundred Muslims gathered on the steps of the Opera Bastille in Paris to “say no to religious radicalism” and proclaimed their attachment to France and the values of the Republic.
With French flags on their jackets and under a banner saying “Together against fanaticism”, demonstrators observed a moment of silence in memory of “Children of Toulouse and Montauban,” victims of Mohamed Merah, responsible for seven murders in both cities in March, and who claimed, according to the Interior Minister, Claude Gueant, to have links with Al Qaeda.
News Agencies – April 13, 2012
Police in Paris arrested a man who took out a pistol and threatened commuters on one of the capital’s busiest Metro lines, ligne 13. The 30-year-old unidentified man of Moroccan origin, was detained by police mid-morning between Metro stations Saint-Denis Basilique and Université.
According to an official source, he pulled out a Colt 45 and began to threaten a passenger saying “I am Mohamed Merah and I am going to kill you “ in reference to the young Islamist killed by police in Toulouse three weeks ago after the murder of seven people.
Disaster was avoided when one of the passengers pulled the emergency cord and the man used the opportunity to escape into a train tunnel where he was eventually caught by police. The man, who refused at first to reveal his identity, is already known to the authorities in connection with a number of petty crimes.