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Thursday, March 29, 2012

The strange case of the Toulouse killer becomes stranger still

The Independent reports that Mohamed Merah, the bizarre French spree killer (who may or may not have been motivated by Islamist extremism, depending on which report you accept), may well have been a police informant.

France's top cop, Bernard Squarcini, has denied the reports, which first surfaced in various Italian and French papers. Those reports originated with an interview that Squarcini himself gave to Le Monde on the 23rd, in which he revealed some oddities about the period when Merah was surrounded and under siege. The suspect had asked to speak to an officer in the DCRI, the French internal intelligence agency (basically, France's FBI).
It was this agent – understood to be a young woman of North African origin – who had interrogated Merah when he returned from a two-month visit to Pakistan in November last year.

The DCRI chief told Le Monde newspaper that Merah shocked the agent by saying: "Actually, I was meaning [before the siege] to call to say I had some tip-offs for you. But, actually, I was going to bump you off."
Oddly, he used tu for "you," as if talking to a friend.
In an interview this week with the Toulouse paper La Dépêche du Midi, a former security chief, Yves Bonnet, said it was "striking" that Merah seemed to have a DCRI "handler". "Having a handler, that is not an innocent thing," he said. "I don't know how far his relationship, or collaboration, with the service went but it is a question worth raising."
Here's where it gets really strange. You just knew that an Israeli connection would show up at some point. This one's a doozy, albeit very iffy:
This week, an Italian paper, Il Foglio, citing "intelligence sources", said Merah travelled to Israel in September 2010 using cover provided by the French external espionage service, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure(DGSE). A spokesman for the DGSE, the French equivalent of MI6, dismissed the report as "grotesque".
The Il Foglio story is credible (the original is here; consult Google for a translation). Moreover, Ha'aretz has also reported on the Israeli connection.

Can it get odder? Perhaps...
Le Canard Enchaîné newspaper reported yesterday that Merah and his family were bugged by the DCRI from March to November last year. The bugging ended abruptly, Le Canard said, at about the time of the future killer's meeting with the DCRI agent in November. However, the body which authorises telephone surveillance said later that the bugging began in November and was dropped in February because it revealed nothing important.
They were not just bugging his phones -- they were watching his every move on the internet, a fact which has enormous implications. Here's a translation of the key paragraphs in the story at the other end of the link:
The young terrorist Mohamed Merah -- whose body will not, in the end, be transported to Algeria -- had his internet under surveillance until the end of 2011, just months before he went into action. He did not visit the Islamist websites to which Nicolas Sarkozy wants to ban access.

An enigmatic little phrase crept into the columns of Le Monde on Monday. "In addition, Mohamed made little use of telephones, just as he did not surf Islamist websites," the newspaper asserted, in an article devoted to the DCRI's knowledge of the Toulouse murderer.

The newspaper did not explain the origin of this statement, which is genuinely perplexing.

If Merah has not visited Islamist websites, why did Nicolas Sarkozy originally proclaim after the raid that this was the result of exposure to web pages that glorify terrorism and call for hatred and violence? Would the president take advantage of a tragic event to push for web censorship in France, even though he knew that the terrorist had not visited the sites he wants to ban, making the whole thing pointless?
To put all this in context:

1. We have no idea how this "lazy good for nothing" without a job was able to afford two trips to the Afghanistan/Pakistan area. We don't know why he went there.

2. We know that the DCRI had been tracking Merah for a year, but we don't know how or why that surveillance -- relationship? -- started.

3. We don't know how Merah acquired or afforded his rather impressive arsenal. He had an AK-47, an Uzi submachine gun, a Sten gun, a shotgun, Colt 45s, and hand grenades. He traded one weapon for a mobile phone, which tells me that he used guns as money. This further tells me that someone else may have been buying the guns.

4. There is a credible report that Merah, in France, had more or less kidnapped a 15 year-old boy and forced him to watch videos of Al Qaeda beheadings. Why didn't the authorities arrest him for that?

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