Al Qaeda gunman in France reportedly escaped Afghan prison


The man French authorities hold responsible for the recent murders of seven people in southern France, including three children, is a French-Algerian claiming allegiance to al Qaeda. Mohamed Merah, a French citizen and resident of Toulouse, was tracked today to an apartment, where security officials are negotiating his surrender. Three policemen have reportedly been wounded in the seige. According to Le Figaro, Merah was planning to attack again today, targeting another soldier.

Although in the immediate aftermath of the shootings at the Jewish school speculation emerged that the killer might be a neo-Nazi, counterterrorism police quickly honed in on Merah. A break in the investigation came after a Yamaha dealer in Toulouse recalled that a man had asked to have an antitheft device removed from a motorbike of the same kind used in the recent murders of three French soldiers near a military base and four people at a Jewish school, according to The Guardian.

The 24-year-old suspect told police "he wanted to 'avenge Palestinian children and denounced French 'crimes' in Afghanistan," the BBC reported. Police today have found a large quantity of weapons in his car.

Merah had "been under surveillance by France's domestic intelligence service for several years after being identified in Afghanistan," Reuters reported, but apparently the tracking had not revealed anything suspicious. Prior to the recent murders, he seems to have led a relatively quiet life in Toulouse with his widowed mother, two brothers, and two sisters. Authorities are currently investigating claims that an elder brother's car contained explosives, and have taken the family into custody for questioning.

But several years earlier, Merah had traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan to participate in jihad, and received training there. On Dec. 19, 2007, he was arrested in Kandahar on charges of emplacing IEDs in the province, and was sentenced to three years in jail, Reuters reports. He escaped in a Taliban jailbreak in June 2008, according to Afghan prison officials.

The prison break in Kandahar in 2008, a complex assault involving suicide bombers, rockets, and an exploding tanker truck, resulted in the release of more than 1,000 prisoners, including 400 Taliban insurgents. Canadian troops in the area tried to round up escapees, but many vanished. Three years later, more than 450 Taliban commanders and fighters escaped the same jail by tunneling out.

A US intelligence official told The Long War Journal that the suspect may have been a member of Forsane Alizza ("Knights of Pride"), a Salafist group that was officially banned in France in January for "inciting national, racial and religious discimination." According to Kuwait News Agency, the group had recently advocated throwing acid in the face of a Swiss politician, and had an anti-Israel agenda. Merah's association with the group is unconfirmed, however.

Recapping details that have emerged in negotations with the suspect today, French Interior Minister Claude Geaunt said: "His radicalisation took place in a Salafist ideological group and seems to have been firmed up by two journeys he made to Afghanistan and Pakistan."

French officials say that since the Sept. 11 attacks, they have arrested 914 suspected Islamist militants and imprisoned 224, averting several planned attacks, according to Reuters.

Update: There is controversy over whether the initial report that Merah had escaped an Afghan prison in 2008 is correct. Afghan officials have since stated that a man named Mohammed Merah did indeed escape in the Taliban jailbreak in 2008 in Kandahar but that he was an Afghan citizen, not French, reports The New York Times.



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READER COMMENTS: "Al Qaeda gunman in France reportedly escaped Afghan prison"

Posted by Mr T at March 21, 2012 12:36 PM ET:

How does he escape prison and then get into France? While being watched? Why would he not be rearrested and returned to the Afghan prison?

Posted by Birbal Dhar at March 21, 2012 1:17 PM ET:

Well Mr T, he wouldn't be extradited to Afghanistan, as he is a French national of Algerian origin. Plus Afghanistan is a very fragile state and there isn't any extradition treaties between France and Afghanistan. However the first point of how he managed to get into France, lies with the problem of the European Union's anti-terrorism systems, which should have had his details on the system, which would have made European Union countries aware of this man.

Posted by villiger at March 21, 2012 2:15 PM ET:

"Prior to the recent murders, he seems to have led a relatively quiet life in Toulouse with his widowed mother, two brothers, and two sisters."
---
Now for a quote:

"Inspector Jacques Clouseau: And now since we are becoming so chummy, perhaps you can tell me about the Great Train Robbery.
Addison Steele: I don't know nothing!
Inspector Jacques Clouseau: He who don't know nothing, must know something, eh?"
---

So, i say: He who is leading a quiet life must be upto something!

When i read this news article, i felt that even Inspector Clouseau would've solved this one before the damage.

Posted by mike merlo at March 21, 2012 3:24 PM ET:

Hopefully this individual can be taken alive allowing for the possible exposure of the 'rat line' he used to make his way from Afghanistan to France.

Posted by mark at March 21, 2012 3:44 PM ET:

A bullet is chepper thayed do it to us

Posted by mike merlo at March 21, 2012 4:15 PM ET:

re: villiger
http://www.voanews.com/english/news/Gates-Endorses-Critique-Military-Intelligence-Afghanistan-07Jan10--80946077.html

Besides getting my own curiosities partially answered it appear's your assumption(s) have at least, to date, been partially vindicated.

Posted by Devin Leonard at March 21, 2012 5:26 PM ET:

Why are they negotiating with this piece of crap. Send France's GIGN into get this guy dead or alive.

Posted by Nick at March 22, 2012 6:55 PM ET:

Well, end game was what it should have been from the start. Shows Presidents don't have these things all their own way - unless they are there in raid kit :)

Posted by James at March 24, 2012 6:09 PM ET:

"Let them eat cake," (Marie Antoinette).

Posted by Penny wise at March 25, 2012 11:34 AM ET:

They got what they deserve a radical population who want more welfare and less friendly relations with the Jewish state. Good job Frenchmen those troopers died cause you are ethically lazy. The Jew died cause that is what you really want...