Europe

Shootings in Toulouse and Montauban: What we know

  • 22 March 2012
  • From the section Europe

A gunman suspected of carrying out three attacks that left seven people dead and two wounded in south-western France has been shot dead by police after a siege at his flat.

Mohammed Merah, 23, a French citizen of Algerian extraction, is said to have told police he wanted to avenge Palestinian children, and attack the French army because of its foreign interventions.

Each shooting was apparently carried out by a single gunman on a scooter, using the same gun, striking in daylight.

The attacks took place in Toulouse and the town of Montauban, 45km (30 miles) away.

Soldiers were targeted in the first two shootings, but the third took place at a Jewish school, where children were shot along with a teacher.

Cyber trail

The same pistol, thought to be a Colt 45, was used in all three shootings.

Murder victim Abel Chennouf (left) was due to become a father with his partner (right)

It is reported that Mohammed Merah threw out a Colt 45 during negotiations with police at the flat, hours into the siege which began early on 21 March.

A Yamaha T-Max 500cc scooter stolen in the Toulouse area on 6 March was used in at least one attack.

When the suspect contacted a dealership in Toulouse to ask for advice on how to remove the scooter's GPS tracking device, the owner, Christian Dellacherie, grew suspicious and notified police.

Another strong clue to the gunman's identity appears to have been an email account used to contact the first victim.

At around 16:00 (15:00 GMT) on Sunday 11 March, Imad Ibn-Ziaten, a 30-year-old staff sergeant in the 1st Airborne Transportation Regiment, was shot dead behind the Chateau de l'Hers school in a quiet district of Toulouse.

Sgt Ibn-Ziaten had posted a small ad on a website to sell a Suzuki Bandit motorcycle, and the suspected gunman had arranged a meeting with him to see it.

The sergeant had identified himself as a soldier in the ad, posted online on 24 February.

He apparently received a phone call about the motorcycle just minutes before the attack, according to local newspaper La Depeche.

Sgt Ibn-Ziaten was found shot in the head, his motorcycle beside him.

French police are said to have traced communications over the small ad to an email account used by the suspect's family.

'Tattoo'

In the second attack, in Montauban on 15 March, surveillance cameras picked up a man in dark clothing wearing a black helmet and riding a powerful scooter.

They also showed him using side-streets, suggesting he knew the town well.

The CCTV footage available to investigators is said to include footage of the actual shooting, taken by the camera in the cash machine being used by the three soldiers as the gunman attacked.

Two members of the 17th Airborne Combat Engineering Regiment, Corporal Abel Chennouf, 24, and Private Mohamed Legouad, 26, were killed. Both, like Sgt Ibn-Ziaten, were of North African origin.

A third paratrooper, 28-year-old Corporal Loic Liber from the French overseas region of Guadeloupe, was left in a coma.

There were numerous witnesses to the attack in Montauban, which occurred at around 14:00 outside a small shopping centre.

Before opening fire on the three unarmed, uniformed servicemen, the gunman reportedly moved aside an elderly woman, who was apparently also standing in line at the cash machine.

The killer was described as a small man who acted calmly, stopping to change the magazine of his pistol.

Witnesses described how he had turned over one of the wounded men who was trying to crawl away, and fired three more shots into him.

He was someone obviously used to handling a gun, a judicial source told AFP.

One witness, who described the killer as "of average height and quite fat", told French broadcaster RTL his helmet visor had been raised and she had seen his eyes and a tattoo or scar on his face.

In the same account, there was no indication of the killer's race.

'Everything he could see'

On 19 March, a gunman on a moped attacked the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse.

He killed Jonathan Sandler, a 30-year-old rabbi and teacher of religion, and his two sons Gabriel and Arieh, aged four and five.

The fourth victim was Myriam Monsonego, seven, daughter of the head teacher, who was reportedly grabbed by the hair and shot in the head.

A boy of 17 was also injured.

After opening fire with a 9mm weapon, the gunman switched to a .45 calibre pistol.

In one respect, the third attack appears different from the others: the gunman reportedly fired indiscriminatingly inside the school grounds.

"He shot at everything he could see, children and adults, and some children were chased into the school," prosecutor Michel Valet told reporters.

Nicole Yardeni, a local Jewish official who saw security video of the attack, described the gunman as "determined, athletic and well-toned". She said he had worn a helmet with the visor down.

Another detail that has emerged is that the killer appeared to be wearing a gopro-type camera.

Police have been viewing video allegedly taken by Merah of the shootings.

The suspect was shot dead on 22 March after a police siege at his flat in Toulouse which had lasted nearly a day and a half.

Reportedly armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, an Uzi machine-gun and several handguns, Merah is said by prosecutors to have opened fired on police as they closed in.

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