Mohamed Merah: Who was Toulouse gunman?

  • Published
Image on France 2 TV said to show Mohamed MerahImage source, Reuters

Mohamed Merah, the man believed to be the gunman on a scooter who killed seven people in south-western France, was killed in an armed siege after police surrounded his block of flats in Toulouse.

A 23-year-old French citizen of Algerian origin, he had long been known to the French authorities as a petty criminal but latterly his links to Islamist extremism drew attention.

The man who reportedly told police negotiators he was a member of al-Qaeda had recently made visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he was found in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar.

He reportedly admitted the shootings in which three unarmed French soldiers were killed, as well as a rabbi and three small children at a Jewish school. Merah reportedly held one little girl, Myriam Monsonego, by her hair to shoot her in the head.

According to French prosecutors, he had expressed no regrets other than "not having claimed more victims" and was proud of having "brought France to its knees".

He said he had been motivated by the fate of the Palestinians, the French military presence in Afghanistan and France's ban on the full veil, prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters.

Juvenile delinquent

Mohamed Merah was from Toulouse where he grew up on a housing estate in Les Izards, a troubled district in the north-east of the city with a large North African population.

He later moved to the block of flats on Sergent Vigne Street, in the quieter, south-eastern district of Cote Pavee.

From a family of five children, the suspect was largely raised by his mother, who was divorced.

He was a mechanic by trade, according to French magazine Le Point, and loved scooters in particular. He was also a keen footballer.

He was considered a juvenile delinquent. As a minor he was reported at least 15 times for acts of violence, and was described as having "a violent profile from childhood and behavioural troubles".

First arrested in 2005, he served two short prison terms, in 2007 and 2009. His convictions reportedly include thefts and driving offences.

In February, he was found guilty of driving without a licence and was due to appear in court in April.

However, two of his friends said he was a "nice guy" who "got on well with everyone", JDD reports.

One of them, Samir, said Merah had been seen in a Toulouse night club only last week.

"I served in the army and he never said anything to me about it," he added.

"I am also shocked he killed North Africans. We can't believe it."

Others give a different picture.


An unnamed young man who ran into him in a rai (popular Arab music) night club around the time of the first shooting told the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur: "He's a waster, a layabout.

"A loner. Not a serious guy... Sometimes he had his hair long, sometimes short, sometimes red."

An unnamed former paratrooper interviewed by local newspaper La Depeche was a friend of the first victim, Sgt Imad Ibn Ziaten, killed on 11 March.

On Saturday night, 17 March, he ran into Merah, whom he also knew, and unwittingly embraced him, as is the custom.

"On Saturday, he even said to me, you are speaking to an angel," the ex-paratrooper said.

"I didn't understand at the time."

La Depeche suggests the "angel" may have been a reference to the suspect's jihadist beliefs.

'Al-Qaeda! al-Qaeda!'

When he attacked paratroopers in Montauban on 15 March, Merah shouted "Allahu Akbar", or "God is great" in Arabic, prosecutor Francois Molins said, quoting police who had viewed video of the attack.

He reportedly became radicalised years ago while in prison, according to Le Point.

French media reports say that two years ago he forced a boy to watch bloody videos from Afghanistan, then beat up the boy's sister after the boy's mother intervened.

How French police tracked down the gunman

Mixed iamge showing scooter, Imad Ibn-Ziate and the appartment block where the suspect is
6 March: A Yamaha T-MAX scooter like the one above was stolen and used by the suspect in the targeted killings. The suspect later asked a garage how to re-spray the machine and how to switch off its tracker device.
11 March: French paratrooper, Imad Ibn-Ziaten, was lured to a meeting with the suspect after advertising his own scooter for sale. The suspect sent an email to arrange a meeting at which he killed the soldier.
21 March: The email address led to this apartment block in Toulouse. Two policemen were lightly wounded when they knocked on the door of an apartment. The heavily armed gunman is surrounded by police.

Several witnesses in Les Izards are quoted by La Depeche as saying Merah turned up outside the family's home dressed in camouflage and waving a sword, shouting "al-Qaeda! al-Qaeda!"

The mother lodged a complaint but there was apparently no prosecution, La Depeche adds.

When Merah's mother was asked by police to assist in police negotiations, she reportedly refused, saying she no longer had any influence over her son.

French lawyer Christian Etelin, who defended the suspect in non-terrorist proceedings in recent years, told AFP news agency he had not given the impression of being a fanatic and had never talked about Islam to him.

"But two years ago I learnt that he had suddenly become radicalised and had left for Afghanistan," the lawyer added.

Merah visited Pakistan in 2011, from mid-August to mid-October. He had already visited the country in 2010, when he was stopped by Afghan police over the border in Kandahar, the former stronghold of the Taliban.

Handed over to US forces, he was sent back to France, La Depeche writes.

France's domestic intelligence agency (DCRI) was aware of his foreign trips and suspected him of radical Islamist activity.

'Such violence'

Interior Minister Claude Gueant revealed that Merah had been asked by intelligence officials in November 2011 to explain his visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan and had shown them photographs to prove he had been a tourist.

Mr Gueant defended the DCRI by saying it followed "a lot of people engaged in radical Islamism".

"Expressing ideas and manifesting Salafist opinions is not grounds enough for prosecution," he added.

Days after the final shooting, Merah was tracked down by police to his flat where he opened fire when they tried to approach him.

Said to be armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, an Uzi machine-gun and several handguns, he resisted arrest for nearly a day and a half.

In his last conversation with police, on the evening of 21 March, he refused to surrender and threatened to kill police officers, Mr Gueant said in a detailed statement soon after news of his death.

When RAID police commandos moved into the first-floor flat in the morning, he opened fire from the bathroom, shooting so heavily that an experienced commando later told the minister he had never seen an "assault of such violence".

Merah jumped through a window with a gun in his hand, still firing, Interior Minister Gueant said.

He continued shooting, at which point a RAID commando killed him with a single shot to the head, Francois Molins said.

Three police officers were injured, one seriously, during the operation.

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