Was Toulouse killer a police informant?

Media reports point to close relationship with French security service despite official denial

Paris

The head of the French internal security service has denied suggestions that authorities "missed" the Toulouse gunman because he was a police informer. Bernard Squarcini took the unusual step of intervening personally to quash speculation that Mohamed Merah was an indic or "snout" for one of his own agents in Toulouse.

Paradoxically, however, the allegations, including stories in the Italian and French regional press, began with a remark by Mr Squarcini himself. The speculation has since been amplified following comments by a retired head of one of the two French security services merged under Mr Squarcini's control four years ago.

Last Friday, the day after Merah, 23, was shot while resisting arrest, Mr Squarcini told Le Monde that the killer had asked, during his 32-hour siege, to speak to a Toulouse-based officer in his agency, the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur (DCRI). It was this agent – understood to be a young woman of North African origin – who had interrogated Merah when he returned from a two-month visit to Pakistan in November last year.

The DCRI chief told Le Monde newspaper that Merah shocked the agent by saying: "Actually, I was meaning [before the siege] to call to say I had some tip-offs for you. But, actually, I was going to bump you off." In French, he used the word fumer, which means "to smoke" but in slang translates to "murder" or "waste". He also used tu, the familiar word for "you".

In other words, Merah appeared to have a friendly relationship with the agent and intended to lure her into an ambush by pretending to have information about radical Islamist activities in Toulouse. French newspapers have pointed out that even low-level "informant" status for Merah could explain why he passed under the radar of the police and security services.

In an interview this week with the Toulouse paper La Dépêche du Midi, a former security chief, Yves Bonnet, said it was "striking" that Merah seemed to have a DCRI "handler". "Having a handler, that is not an innocent thing," he said. "I don't know how far his relationship, or collaboration, with the service went but it is a question worth raising."

Mr Bonnet was head of the counter-espionage service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), from 1982 to 1985. This was one of the two agencies merged by President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008 to form the DCRI. The merger generated much jealousy and anger. Government sources suggest that this could to explain Mr Bonnet's "unhelpful" remarks. This week, an Italian paper, Il Foglio, citing "intelligence sources", said Merah travelled to Israel in September 2010 using cover provided by the French external espionage service, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure(DGSE). A spokesman for the DGSE, the French equivalent of MI6, dismissed the report as "grotesque". Mr Squarcini has said Merah was never an informer for any French security agency.

Le Canard Enchaîné newspaper reported yesterday that Merah and his family were bugged by the DCRI from March to November last year. The bugging ended abruptly, Le Canard said, at about the time of the future killer's meeting with the DCRI agent in November. However, the body which authorises telephone surveillance said later that the bugging began in November and was dropped in February because it revealed nothing important.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there