Two men were in custody in Toulouse today suspected of helping the “scooter killer”, Mohamed Merah before his murderous rampage in south-western France in March last year.
The arrests were made last night, hours after the French interior minister, Manuel Valls, publicly repudiated the official theory that Merah was a psychopathic “lone wolf” rather than an Islamist terrorist.
Merah, 23, killed seven people, including three children, in three gun attacks on a Jewish school and off-duty French soldiers in Toulouse and Montauban last March. He was killed by French police while resisting arrest after a 36-hour siege.
The two men, aged 28 and 30, arrested yesterday were said to be friends of Merah and his brother, Abdelkader, who is already in custody accused of complicity in the killings. Investigators are said to believe that the two men may have helped Merah prepare for the murders, including the theft of the high-power scooter used in all the attacks.
At an anti-terrorism conference in Brussels yesterday, Mr Valls dismissed claims by the previous French government that Merah and his brother acted independently of any organised Islamist networks.
“The celebrated lone wolf theory does not hold water in Merah’s case,” Mr Valls said. “His actions were the result of meticulous preparation and a true process of apprenticeship through contacts with numerous people.”
The latest arrests came as Mr Valls was due to meet relatives of Merah’s victims in Paris yesterday afternoon. The families have long rejected the “lone wolf” theory which, they suggest, was an attempt by the previous administration to minimise the failure of security services to identify Merah as a threat.