France defends approach to shooter

2012-03-23 11:08
Paris - French police had no grounds to detain a self-proclaimed Islamic extremist before he went on a killing spree, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Friday.

"There was no single element" to allow for the detention of Mohamed Merah, Fillon told French radio.

"We don't have the right in a country like ours to permanently monitor without judicial authorisation someone who hasn't committed an offense... We live in a state of law."

French authorities have faced mounting questions over why Merah, a self-professed al-Qaeda militant who was known to intelligence services because of his trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was not detained before he killed seven people, including three children.

But Fillon defended the intelligence services, saying that they "did their job perfectly well; they identified Mohamed Merah when he made his trips".

He said that intelligence agents "surveilled him long enough to come to the conclusion that there was no element, no indication, that this was a dangerous man who would one day pass from words to acts".

No offense

Merah "was interrogated, surveilled and listened to", said Fillon, adding that he was a man who "led a normal life."

"Belonging to a Salafist organisation is not an offense in and of itself. We cannot mix up religious fundamentalism with terrorism, even if we know there are elements that unite them."

On Thursday morning the streets of a residential area in Toulouse were filled with the sound of intense gunfire in a shattering finale to the standoff, which had begun before dawn the previous day.

As police from the elite RAID force stormed his apartment the 23-year-old burst out of the bathroom wearing a black djellaba, a traditional loose-fitting North African robe, and a bullet-proof vest.

He opened fire on them before jumping out the window of his first-floor apartment, still firing as he fell. France's chief anti-terror prosecutor Francois Molins said Merah was shot in the head.

"He was dead by the time he hit the ground," one police source said.

No tear gas

Police had been told to do everything possible to take Merah alive, but had had no choice but to fire, said Molins.

"He literally launched an assault, rushing forward with a Colt .45 and continuing to fire as he jumped through the window, until he was shot in the head," he told journalists.

And RAID head Amaury de Hauteclocque said: "It's the first time in my life I've seen someone, as we launch an assault, launch an assault against us."

But Christian Prouteau, who founded the GIGN - another of France's elite police units - wanted to know why police had not used tear gas to flush out Merah, expressing astonishment that they had failed to capture him alive.

In an interview, with Ouest France newspaper, he asked: "How come the police's best unit did not manage to arrest a man all alone?"

Read more on:    france  |  french attacks

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