France unsure where to bury gunman's body

2012-03-29 18:13

Toulouse - France, still reeling from its worst terror attacks in years, wrangled on Thursday with how and where to bury the man who claimed to have carried them out.

Algerian authorities said they didn't want to take Mohamed Merah's remains, as his Algerian-born father had wanted. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he just wanted the burial over with.

Police say Merah filmed himself killing three schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers in a spate of attacks earlier this month. Merah, who espoused radical Islam and said he had links to al-Qaeda, was shot in the head after a stand-off with police last week in the southern city of Toulouse.

His brother is in custody on suspected complicity and police are looking for a potential third man who might have helped.

But in the meantime, Merah's body remains unburied a week after his death.

The 23-year-old's father said this week that he wanted his son buried in a family plot in the Medea region of Algeria, a solution that seemed to satisfy French officials uncomfortable with the question of what to do with his remains.

With that plan in mind, Merah's body was brought to the Toulouse airport Thursday, and his mother had been expecting to accompany it to Algiers on a flight later in the day.

But Abdallah Zekri of the French Muslim Council, or CFCM, told The Associated Press that Algerian authorities refused for "reasons of public order." Zekri had been liaising with authorities at the Algerian consulate in Toulouse.

Instead, Zekir said Merah would be buried later on Thursday at the Muslim cemetery in the Toulouse neighbourhood of Cornebarrieu. But then the Toulouse mayor objected, and asked authorities in the central government in Paris to delay the burial another 24 hours.

"After Algeria's refusal at the last minute to accept the body of Mohamed Merah, [Toulouse Mayor] Pierre Cohen feels that his interment on the territory of the city of Toulouse is not appropriate," the mayor's office said in a statement.

"Let him be buried"

Sarkozy said, "Let him be buried, and let's not create a debate about this".

Merah's brother has been handed preliminary charges of alleged complicity in preparing the killings, though his lawyer insists that Abdelkader Merah had no idea what his brother was plotting.

Abdelkader Merah told investigators that a third man helped the Merah brothers steal a motorbike used later in the killings, two police officials said on Thursday. Merah did not give the name of the other man.

Also, police have found a car abandoned in a parking lot in a village in southern France, Saint-Papoul, that belongs to a man registered as living at the same Toulouse address as Mohamed Merah, police officials said. It's unclear whether the car owner and the alleged motorbike thief are the same person.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to be publicly named.

The shootings were the worst terrorist attacks in France since the 1990s and have revived concerns about home grown Islamist radicals carrying out violence. Merah travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan and said he received weapons training there.

French Muslims have worried about a backlash after Merah's attacks, and French leaders have urged the public not to equate Islam with terrorism.

But concerns about radical Islam are high, and the government on Thursday banned a string of international Muslim clerics from entering France for a conference of a fundamentalist Islamic group.

Also Thursday, a former nuclear physicist went on trial in Paris on accusations of plotting attacks with the North African wing of Al-Qaeda. But his defenders say he only sent some angry emails and fear he may be unfairly linked with the Merah case.

In a separate, apparently unconnected development, Indonesia's anti-terrorism chief said a French militant is the chief suspect in last week's blast at Indonesia's Embassy in Paris.

The suspect is Frederic C Jean Salvi, who allegedly spent several years studying with Islamic militants in Indonesia, anti-terrorism agency chief Ansyaad Mbai told The Associated Press in Jakarta.

The package bomb that exploded March 21 did not cause any injuries or major damage. The attack was apparently meant as a warning to Indonesia to stop a US and Australia-funded security crackdown that has resulted in the arrests, convictions and imprisonment of hundreds of Islamist militants.

- AP
Read more on:    mohamed merah  |  france  |  algeria
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