Police accused of failures over Toulouse terror deaths - Europe - World - The Independent

Police accused of failures over Toulouse terror deaths

Islamist killer who died in shootout with officers could have been captured earlier, and taken alive, say critics


Mohamed Merah may be dead but the political crossfire over his 12-day reign of terror in south-west France rages on.

Awkward questions were raised yesterday by opposition politicians, a retired police chief and President Nicolas Sarkozy's Defence Minister over the failure of the security services and police to identify the gunman earlier and capture him alive.

Merah, 23, who murdered three children and four adults in eight days, claimed to have been commissioned by al-Qa'ida to "bring France to its knees". His killing spree and spectacular death after a 32-hour siege on Thursday have left politicians and different branches of the legal and security apparatus at one another's throats.

With four weeks to go until the first-round vote in the presidential election, the killings have become intensely, and unpleasantly, political. Mr Sarkozy has called for "national unity" and "dignity" but his re-election campaign is trying to extract maximum advantage from the affair. Senior figures in the President's UMP party have begun to attack François Hollande, the Socialist front-runner, as "soft" on terrorism. UMP leaders also accuse Mr Hollande of "indecency" in suggesting that Mr Sarkozy helped to create a climate of hatred which allowed the killings to happen. Earlier, when Merah was presumed to be a far-right fanatic, Mr Hollande urged politicians to "control their language" on immigration and race. Yesterday, he demanded an investigation into the "lapse" in surveillance which failed to track a known Islamist extremist like Merah.

The Prime Minister, François Fillon, backed the police. "Resolving a criminal case of this importance in 10 days, I believe that's practically unprecedented in the history of our country," he told RTL radio. There were, however, accusations from a left-leaning magistrates' union that the Interior Minister, and Sarkozy ally, Claude Guéant, played an inappropriate, or harmful role in assuming control of the investigation and siege. The Green Party's presidential candidate, Eva Joly, a former magistrate, suggested that Mr Guéant's high profile in the inquiry was "unconstitutional" and electorally motivated.

Christian Prouteau, the retired chief of the elite GIGN commando unit of the Gendarmerie Nationale, claimed that the national police force's special tactical operations unit, the RAID, had mishandled the affair. Mr Prouteau said Merah could have been taken alive if RAID commandos had used tear gas and not stun grenades. Local police in Toulouse also complained, off the record, about the RAID. They told local media they wanted to grab Merah on the street, but were overruled in favour of a night raid on his flat.

Perhaps most damagingly, the Defence Minister, Gérard Longuet, said that "a considerable amount of time" was wasted because the police believed a neo-Nazi ex-paratrooper was to blame. "There were people who absolutely wanted to look in the direction [of a neo-Nazi killer] and no other," he said.

Merah's first three victims, in two attacks on 11 March and 15 March, were paratroopers of North African origin. It was only after he killed three children and a teacher at a Jewish school on Monday that the investigation took a new approach, Mr Longuet said.

His comments followed claims that the inquiry into the attacks on the paratroopers was clumsy. Last Saturday, detectives were given a list of 500 people who had answered a sales advertisement placed by Merah's first soldier victim. The list included the computer address of Merah's mother. Moreover, the gunman lived one kilometre from the scene of the first killing in Toulouse – but no link was made with him until Monday evening, after he had attacked the Lycée Ozar Hatorah.

Merah's radical Islamist views were known to the internal security service but he was seen as a "wannabe" fanatic and not a real threat.

Teacher orders minute's silence for Merah

France's Education Minister, Luc Chatel, has demanded the suspension of a teacher who asked her 17- and 18-year-old pupils to observe a minute's silence for Mohamed Merah, the gunman killed after a 32-hour siege in Toulouse on Thursday.

Lorraine Collin, 56, an English teacher at the lyceé Gustave-Flaubert in Rouen in Normandy, told her pupils Merah was the "victim of an unhappy childhood" and that his alleged links with al-Qa'ida had been "invented" by President Sarkozy and the media.

Most of her pupils walked out of the class and complained to the school authorities. Ms Collin was later reported to have apologised and said she was not feeling well.

Mr Chatel said her behaviour was "unspeakable". He told the local education board she must be suspended and disciplined.

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week