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PARIS (AP) — A video apparently showing a Muslim gunman's attacks on soldiers and a Jewish school was sent to the Al-Jazeera news network — but not by him, French police said Tuesday, raising the specter of a possible accomplice.
Toulouse gunman was informant of French intelligence?
Mohamed Merah, the notorious killer shot in a stand-off with police a week ago in Toulouse, is still stirring controversy in France. An ex-chief of the French spy agency says Merah might have acted as an informant to the local equivalent of the FBI.
The speculation comes as Yves Bonnet, a former intelligence chief, says Merah might have passed information onto the DCRI, a French domestic intelligence agency.
“He was known to the DCRI, not especially because he was an Islamist, but because he had a correspondent in domestic intelligence,” Bonnet told La Dépêce newspaper on Monday.
“When you have a correspondent, it’s not completely innocent,” he remarked.
On Tuesday the assumption, worthy of a huge scandal, was rebuffed by DCRI head Bernard Squarcini.
Merah was indeed interviewed by a local intelligence agent in November 2011, Squarcini said, but this was because the agency “wanted to receive explanations about his trip to Afghanistan.”
As Merah stated he went to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 as a tourist, he was let go but placed on a watch list. Merah “did not serve as an informant to the DCRI or any other French intelligence service,” stressed the DCRI head.
The attack on a Jewish school that left three young children and a rabbi dead was an “opportunistic” outburst, French spy chief Ange Mancini has said. The Toulouse gunman had been planning to kill another French soldier instead.
“It wasn't the school that he wanted to attack,” Mancini, intelligence coordinator for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said on French TV.
Mancini said Mohamed Merah was planning to kill a soldier in Toulouse on Monday, but arrived too late and missed the original target. He then decided to carry out an unplanned attack on a nearby Jewish school.
Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, carried out three deadly attacks in and around Toulouse, killing three French soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi. He recorded each of the three attacks on video – a move which shows a lack of “professionalism” security officials believe.
“It is very telling that he filmed his exploits,'' Europol chief Rob Wainwright said. “Still, in spite of the mistakes, he managed to carry out significant damage.”
Despite the fact that the gunman seemed to be divided between wanting to increase the death toll and bragging about his deeds, his attacks were certainly inspired by Al-Qaeda, Wainwright added.
Authorities had been tracking Merah for several years before the tragic events. They knew he espoused a radical form of Islam and had been in Afghanistan and Pakistan, allegedly receiving training in militant camps. He was even put on the US no-fly list as a suspected terrorist.
French officials, however, are fending off accusations of incompetence on the part of anti-terrorism authorities. “There was no sign he had trained or been in contact with organized groups or jihadists," a senior official who is close to the investigation told the Associated Press.
Merah himself claimed he was in touch with Al-Qaeda and even received instructions from the group to carry out a suicide blast, which he refused to do. But the authorities have absolutely no reason to believe that he was “commissioned by Al-Qaida to carry out these attacks,” AP reported, citing the same official.
The official suggested that Merah used the well-known Al-Qaeda “brand” to increase the impact of his acts.