French suspect claims al Qaeda ties; escaped from Kandahar jail (UPDATED)
SkyNews reports on the standoff between French authorities and Mohammed Merah, an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist known as the "Scooter Killer." Merah killed a total of seven people in the southern city of Toulouse: three children and a teacher at a Jewish school on Monday, as well as three French paratroopers in two separate attacks last week. Reuters has reported that Merah was one of the escapees from a Taliban prison break in Kandahar in 2008. Ghulam Faruq, the director of prisons in Kandahar, said "Merah was detained by security services on December 19, 2007 and was sentenced to three years in jail for planting bombs," according to Reuters.
More, from a thorough round-up of the story at TIME Global Spin:
Although there have long been fears that radicals returning from training or combat activity overseas would rapidly move toward terrorist activity, one French security official recently told TIME, "We've yet to see that happen, but have to remain wary because we know anyone who goes there for training doesn't forget about their motives once they're back home." Other French intelligence officers have told TIME that it's believed around 30 or so extremists have returned from training abroad and are now present in Europe--perhaps a third of them in France. These include young radicals in and around Toulouse who had sought training in Pakistan and Afghanistan but were prevented from leaving the country by police. Still others were only identified once they'd obtained their ideological and combat instruction abroad.
UPDATE: Afghan government officials, as well as Merah's lawyer, have rejected Faruq's assertion that Merah escaped from jail in Kandahar:
But the Kandahar governor's office said that account was "baseless", citing judicial records. "Security forces in Kandahar have never detained a French citizen named Mohammad Merah," the governor's spokesman, Ahmad Jawed Faisal, said.
Merah's lawyer in France, Christian Etelin, said his client was in prison in France from December 2007 until September 2009, serving an 18-month sentence for robbery with violence, and therefore could not have been in Afghanistan at the time of the Kandahar jailbreak.
Faruq's claim was initially confirmed by an Afghan intelligence official, according to Reuters.