Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gunman's siege in Toulouse

Like millions of spectators throughout France (and the world at large, no doubt), I've been fascinated by the still-unfolding case of 24-year-old Mohamed Merah, holed up in a Toulouse flat encircled by police. In French terrorist history, the despicable crimes carried out by the alleged assassin were of a new kind. He used a powerful weapon to kill three off-duty soldiers, a young rabbi and three innocent children, by firing into their heads at point-blank range. For the last day and night, the determination of French authorities to capture Merah alive has given rise to a weird siege, of a totally new kind in France.

Why is it so important that Merah be captured alive? First and foremost, we might say that the moral principles of the French Republic have never accepted (at least not in theory) the idea of getting rid of an annoying suspect by simply killing him. But the real reason for hoping desperately that Merah survives the siege is the idea of being able to examine him at length, and study all the details of his background. We need to understand why and how a relatively normal youth, born in Toulouse, could be transformed into a brutal Al-Qaeda-style terrorist. Curiously, Merah was not reputed to have led the life of an Islamic fundamentalist. On the contrary, this video (of a year and a half ago) shows him having fun in an automobile:

In view of the absence of any reactions whatsoever from Merah over the last few hours, observers are starting to wonder if he hasn't already committed suicide. Meanwhile, half an hour ago, the French minister of Foreign Affairs Alain Juppé admitted on the Europe 1 radio that Merah's case suggests that weaknesses may have existed within the security services: "I understand that people can ask the question of whether or not there was a loophole. Since I don't know whether there was a loophole, I can't talk to you about its nature. But this question needs to be clarified."


[11 am French time] Police of the RAID unit apparently broke into Merah's flat about a quarter of an hour ago, but there's not yet any news about whether or not the suspected killer is still alive.

[11.35 am French time] After an intense gun battle that lasted for five minutes, AFP announced that the suspect had been mortally wounded.

The death of Mohamed Merah in a lengthy gun battle with police, while wielding a Kalashnikov, was the worst possible scenario, for there's a chance that he might appear as a heroic martyr to certain observers.

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