The child seen apparently executing an Arab Israeli in an Islamic State propaganda video this week has been recognised by schoolmates in Toulouse in south west France.
Although his name has not been released, he is believed to be the stepson of the bearded man who is seen threatening France and Israel in the same video.
This man is almost certainly the step-brother – not the half-brother as originally reported – of Mohamed Merah, of the "scooter killer" who murdered seven people in south west France exactly three years ago.
A school inspector in Toulouse said that the boy had been recognised by former schoolmates in the city after they watched the chilling video on social media. They told other children, some of whom burst into tears at school.
The boy, who left France last year, is believed to be 12 years old.
“Concerning the formal identification of this person, I cannot tell you anything,” the schools inspector, Jacques Caillaut told reporters. “Children from the Vauquelin College have recognised one of their (former) classmates, but we must remain cautious.”
The children said they were in class until last year with the boy in a primary school in the same troubled, multi-ractal district of Toulouse where Mohamed Merah lived.
“There is a child who has not been enrolled at the Vergers (primary) school since March 14, 2014, but I do not have any other details,” Mr Caillaut said.
French security officials have launched a formal investigation to try to identify the French-speaking man and boy in the video. Security sources have told the French media that the man is almost certainly Sabri Essaid, 31, Mohamed Merah’s step brother.
Mr Essaid organised Merah’s funeral following his death in a police shoot-out. He was later questioned as a possible accessory to his step-brother's murders but released. He had previously served a jail term in France for radical Islamist activities.
He is known to have travelled to Syria last year with his entire family, including his wife and her 12-year-old son from a previous marriage. This boy is believed to be the child seen shooting the Arab-Isareli prisoner in the video, but this has not been officially confirmed.
Three years ago last Wednesday – the precise day that the IS video appeared – Mohamed Merah committed the first of his three scooter-borne attacks which killed three French off-duty soldiers and four Jews, including three children. The timing of the video is assumed by French intelligence to be an IS publicity stunt.
In the video, the prisoner is declared to be an Israeli spy. The boy appears to shoots him in the forehead and shouts “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest). He then fires four more shots into the young man’s body.
The family of the victim, Muhammad Musallam, 19, has rejected the claim that he was working for Israeli intelligence. They said that he went to Syria as a jihadist volunteer but became disillusioned and tried to go home to east Jersusalem.