Lawyer: French shooter innocent
Paris - An Algerian lawyer said on Monday that she has evidence the young man accused of killing seven people in attacks on French soldiers and a Jewish school claimed his innocence to police. Separately, France announced it was expelling several foreign Islamist extremists on its soil.
Mohamed Merah, 23, was killed after a more than 30-hour stand-off with police at his apartment in Toulouse after being identified as the suspect behind the killing spree last month. Authorities have said that during negotiations Merah claimed to have links to al-Qaeda and confessed to the killings.
But Zahia Mokhtari, a lawyer for Merah's Algerian father, told BFM television on Monday that she had two identical videos of Merah that contradict the police narrative. "In these videos, he says, 'I am innocent. Why are you killing me? I didn't do anything,'" she said.
Mokhtari would not detail how she got the videos, saying she would reveal more on their origin once she files a lawsuit in French courts against the elite police force, RAID, that killed Merah.
Merah is alleged to have killed three paratroopers, a rabbi and three Jewish schoolchildren. Attacks that put French authorities on edge. President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed a crackdown on foreign Islamist radicals, and the Interior Ministry said on Monday that deportations are in progress.
An Algerian Islamist radical convicted for a role in 1994 attacks in Marrakech and said to have recently started linking up again with extremists was deported on Monday along with an imam from Mali who preached anti-Semitism and the rejection of the West, the Interior Ministry said.
A Saudi imam who has systematically preached the need to isolate women among other things is to be forced home imminently. Efforts to deport two other people are in progress and more such actions can be expected "shortly," the statement said.
Toyed with police
A police official with knowledge of the investigation into the Merah case cast doubt on the Algerian lawyer's claims about the videos on Monday, noting that Merah led police to evidence that proved he was the perpetrator.
Prosecutors say Merah spoke at length with negotiators from the RAID force throughout the stand-off while he was holed up in a Toulouse apartment.
During these conversations, authorities say, Merah told them where to find a video he took of the crime spree. Al-Jazeera television has said it received a copy of the video, which shows the deaths of three paratroopers, three Jewish children and a rabbi from the killer's point of view.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of police rules, added that Merah had toyed with police during the stand-off, initially agreeing to surrender but later vowing to "die with his weapons in his hands".
Police have said that Merah said he had links to al-Qaeda but have cast doubt on that claim. They are holding his brother on suspicion he helped to prepare the attacks and are looking for a possible third man who may also have been involved.
The killings have left France reeling, reviving worries about Islamist extremism and shaking up the French presidential campaign.