Security services had been tracking suspect Mohamed Merah since 2008


John Lichfield

Mohamed Merah, the man suspected of the Toulouse killings, had been on a French security service "watch list" since 2008. He and his older brother, Abdelkader, have been on a list of possible suspects since the first in a series of three attacks and seven killings in eight days.

The younger Merah was arrested by US authorities in Afghanistan in 2008 and sent home to France, He travelled back to the Afghan-Pakistani border last year. He belonged to a small, extremist Islamist group, run by his brother, and regarded by security services as harmless. In the past four years, he twice applied to join the French army but was refused because of minor offences.

Although French authorities were congratulating themselves yesterday on locating Merah before he killed again, they also face awkward questions on why they failed to identify him as a serious threat earlier.

Merah, 23, was born in Toulouse in October 1988 of Algerian parents and was variously described by neighbours and acquaintances as a "quiet young man" and "the kind of person who would give you a hand if you needed it." Karim, 30, a neighbour who has known Merah since he was 13, told The Independent yesterday: "It was his brother who was always the extremist. Until a couple of years ago, Mohamed was just an ordinary guy. He worked in a car body repair shop. He played football. Then a couple of years ago, he lost his job and he seemed to go off the rails."

In fact, the internal security services believe that Merah first volunteered as a jihadist in 2007 or 2008. He attended training camps on the Pakistani-Afghan border. After returning to France, he appears to have joined a small group of extreme Islamists, run by his brother.

French authorities admitted yesterday that this group was under surveillance but not regarded as any particular threat. Abdelkader Merah was also under arrest yesterday, suspected of helping, or even masterminding, the attacks.

When a soldier was murdered more than a week ago, the two brothers were briefly suspects. Little was done to trace them until after the school slaughter.

An email, replying to a small ad, sent to one of the murdered soldiers was traced to Abdelkader Merah's computer. Someone answering Mohamed's description was also found to have visited a Yamaha motorbike showroom in Toulouse last week. He wanted to know how to de-activate the anti-theft, satellite location device on the kind of scooter used in all three attacks.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower