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Did you know?



Settlements Generate Virtually No Economic Activity
"A recent Israeli government report estimated there are…$250 million in annual exports — [only] 0.55 percent of the national total — from the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, territories the international community generally considers illegally occupied."
Jodi Rodoren cited by Richard Silverstein, 22 Jan 2014

Daily acts of violence committed by Jewish Israeli citizens against West Bank Palestinians
"These incidents — now particularly heightened during the olive harvest season — are not the aberration from the norm, but a regular feature of life in the occupied West Bank. In 2012, over 7,500 Palestinian olive trees were destroyed. In the 5-year period between 2007 and 2011, there was a 315 percent increase in settler violence."
Mairav Zonszein, Israel Must Stop Settler Violence, 8 November 2013
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Police impunity
After their own investigations establishing a prima facie violation, Btselem has lodged over 280 complaints of alleged police violence in the oPt since the start of the second Intifada: "we are aware of only 12 indictments" Btselem April 2013
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Runners in the first ever Bethlehem Marathon were forced to run two laps of the same course on Sunday 21 April 2013, as Palestinians were unable to find a single stretch of free land that is 26 miles long in Area A, where the PA has both security and civil authority. See Marathon report
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30th March, land day.
On 30 March 1976, thousands of Palestinians living as a minority in Israel mounted a general strike and organised protests against Israeli government plans to expropriate almost 15,000 acres of Palestinian land in the Galilee.The Israeli government, led by prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and defence minister Shimon Peres, sent in the army to break up the general strike. The Israeli army killed six unarmed Palestinians, wounded hundreds and arrested hundreds more, including political activists. All were citizens of Israel.
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* Out of 103 investigations opened in 2012 into alleged offences committed by Israeli soldiers in the occupied territories, not a single indictment served to date
Yesh Din, 3 Feb 2013
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* In total, out of an area of 1.6 million dunams in the Jordan Valley, Israel has seized 1.25 million − some 77.5 percent − where Palestinians are forbidden to enter.
Haaretz editorial, 4 Feb 2013
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Posts

Murder in the name of righteous vengeance

Arrest of Merah's brother

This posting has 6 items:
1) continuous live blog of events and knowledge as they come in, Daily Telegraph;
2) growth of Toulouse  city of dreams, Reuters;
3) the basic facts from AFP;
4) Netanyahu’s distinction between intended and accidental killing of children;
5) al Quaeda connection not organised, Al Jazeera;
6) PM Fayyad condemns killing in name of Palestinian children;



Toulouse siege
Live blog, Daily Telegraph
21.03.11

[This is continuing at time of posting]

16.18 It is understood that Merah’s father is French and his mother is Algerian.

16.15 Mohammed Merah has now said he will give himself up late this evening. Francois Molins, France’s top anti-terror magistrate who is overseeing the probe into the killing of three soldiers, said:

He had said he wanted to give himself up in the afternoon or evening, now it’s in the late evening.

16.06 Francois Molins added that several assaults were attempted on the Toulouse gunman’s flat but officers were fired upon each time. He said two police were wounded by Mohamed Merah, one in the knee and another when a bullet hit his flak jacket.

16.00 Henry Samuel has some more detail on the statement from Prosecutor Francois Molins.

Mehar told negotiators he envisaged other murders, including one this morning of a soldier outside his home. He had other criminal projects, including two policemen in Toulouse, he expresses no regret except not to have killed any other victims and claims to have brought France to its knees,” said Paris prosecutor François Molins.

He said he doesn’t have the “soul of suicide bomber – was happy to kill but not die for cause. He was a loner who was capable of staying locked in at home for long periods and fantasied on ultra-violent internet clips such as beheadings, the prosecutor said.

He helped police trace a Renault Megan rented in March, which contained a revolver, a scattergun, an Uzi, and ammunition. He mentioned a Clio also containing arms and ammunition. He gave address where scooter is parked. Two dark helmets dark and white found. A camera was found in a bag given to friend.

15.54 Prosecutor Francois Molins said the US army previously sent the Toulouse gunman back to France after he was arrested in Afghanistan. Afghan police detained Mohammed Merah and then handed him over to the US army “who put him on the first plane headed to France,” Mr Molins said.

He added that Merah had been to Afghanistan twice and had trained in the militant stronghold of Waziristan.

15.48 News agencies are snapping that Mohammed Merah had planned to kill another soldier and two police officials, according to a French prosecuter. We will bring you more on this as it drops.

15.40 A scooter dealer has explained how he played a key role in leading police to the alleged Toulouse gunman Mohammed Merah. Christian Dellacherie, the owner of the Yam 31 Yamaha dealership, said he had provided the name of the suspected killer. He said that when police showed him surveillance video footage of the attack on a Jewish school that killed three children and a teacher, he noticed the scooter used in the attack had been partially repainted white. He told AFP:

A young man that we knew had come to see us a few days earlier and had asked us for information about the geo-localisation chip in his machine. He mentioned in an off-hand way that he had just taken apart his scooter to repaint it.

I gave them the first and last names of the young man, which we had in our database since he was 14 years old.

He said he “made the connection” while watching the video.

15.28 Henry Samuel, our France correspondent, writes that the revelation that the Toulouse gunman has links with al-Qaeda is likely to influence the French presidential election campaign, and could prove a gift for the far-Right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen.

The latest developments have sparked a tussle over which issues the campaign will now centre – the need for greater tolerance, understanding and national unity, or anger at perceived laxism towards extremism and a call for a security crackdown that could favour the Right and far-Right.

Marine Le Pen – who has previously likened Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation of France – clearly tried to set the tone by claiming the “Islamic fundamentalist threat has been underestimated in our country and political-religious groups are developing due to a certain laxism. Security is a theme that has just signed up to the presidential campaign.”

…………………………………………………….

13.23 BREAKING: That was quick; Reuters reports that the gunman has been arrested. The news agency credits BFMTV. We’ll verify this and confirm ASAP.

13.20 Looks as if we may see some movement in the Toulouse siege in the next 10 minutes. AP reports that the gunman told police he would surrender by 2.30pm (French time). If he fails to keep to this then police may storm the building.
An official says French police plan to storm an apartment building shortly if a gunman suspected in seven killings and claiming allegiance to al-Qaida doesn’t surrender.

Cedric Delage, regional secretary for a police union, said the suspect has promised to turn himself into police by 2:30 p.m. (1330GMT). Delage says if that doesn’t happen, police will force their way in to try to take him by force.

13.14 The Telegraph’s Ben Farmer reports from Kabul that Merah fled Sarposa Prison in Afghanistan in June 2008 after a Taliban attack.

Ghulam Farouq, general director of Kandahar prison, said Mohammed Merah, son of Mohammed Siddique, was arrested sometime in 2007 while working with Taliban insurgents as a bombmaker.
He spent around a year in the Sarposa Prison on bombmaking charges before he and hundreds of others escaped on June 13, 2008 in a huge breakout. Up to 1,000 inmates, including 350 Taliban militants escaped that day when a suicide lorry bomb breached the prison walls and up to 30 Taliban fighters then attacked and helped inmates escape.

French intelligence sources said about 30 French fighters trained by the Taliban were believed to have taken part in attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan.13.04 Mohammed Merah was radicalised after making two trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan, reports John Irish, from Reuters.

The suspect, a French citizen of Algerian origin, had been under surveillance by France’s domestic intelligence service for several years after being identified in Afghanistan. But he led a normal life of soccer and night clubbing, according to friends and neighbours who had no idea that he had been in Afghanistan.

The daily Le Monde said Merah had trained with Pakistani Taliban fighters in a border tribal zone before being sent into southwestern Afghanistan to fight against NATO forces supporting the Kabul government.French troops are part of that NATO operation, which may explain why the first victims of the gunman’s killing spree were serving paratroopers killed in Toulouse on March 11 and Montauban on March 15.

12.51 Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister, led tributes to shooting victims Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 4, and seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego, as their bodies were laid to rest in Israel today. He said:

Your children are being buried here in the land of Israel, but their memories shall live on and be honoured in the land of France, their homeland as well.

France won’t tolerate terrorism. We are determined to fight every expression of anti-Semitism. Each time a Jew is attacked, cursed or killed on the republic’s territory, it is the entire French nation that is at stake and must react.

12.43 We have video footage of the emotional funeral service in Israel for the gunman’s four victims, who were shot dead outside a Jewish school in Toulouse.

12.35 Christian Etelin, a lawyer who has previously represented Merah, described his former client as a “polite and courteous” man. Mr Etelin told the channel BFMTV that Merah was “gentle and courteous – certainly not a fanatic”. He said his client had served a prison sentence for “a common crime” after snatching a bag from someone in a bank.The lawyer, who has defended Merah over various petty crimes since 2004, said “The situation and what I know of his personality, with certain fragile aspects, leads me to fear unpredictable behaviour”.

12.27 AFP reports that the gunman has resumed speaking with police negotiators after he stopped talking several hours ago.

12.24 French police have said they are investigating the alleged phone call Merah made to the news channel France 24. Detectives told AFP they were taking the 11-minute call seriously, but could not confirm it was Merah.

An official says French police plan to storm an apartment building shortly if a gunman suspected in seven killings and claiming allegiance to al-Qaida doesn’t surrender.

Cedric Delage, regional secretary for a police union, said the suspect has promised to turn himself into police by 2:30 p.m. (1330GMT). Delage says if that doesn’t happen, police will force their way in to try to take him by force.

12.06 Le Monde’s live blog on the siege suggests that alleged gunman Mohammed Merah tried to enlist in the French Foreign Legion and the French army a few years ago but was rejected on the grounds of his psychological instability and criminal past. Europe 1, the broadcaster, reports:

Between two trips to Afghanistan, Mohamed Merah, the alleged perpetrator of the massacre of the Jewish school in Toulouse and killing soldiers of Toulouse and Montauban, applied to enter the French army and the Foreign Legion, in 2008. He presented himself at both recruitment centers in Toulouse, the TIP of the Foreign Legion and CIRFA of the Army but was not selected because of his criminal record and his psychological instability.

11.55 More detail is emerging on Merah’s escape from prison in Afghanistan. Reuters reports:

Merah escaped jail along with up to 1,000 prisoners, including 400 Taliban insurgents, during a Taliban attack on southern Afghanistan’s main prison in June 2008.

11.51 Fiona Govan reports from the scene:
Several young French arabs have come down to the scene of the siege to condemn the attacks. “I knew this man when he was a boy, we grew up together in the same neighbourhood, playing football,”said one young man who declined to give his name. “That he went on to carry out these attacks has deeply shocked me. What he did is totally against the teaching of Islam.”

11.46 It’s hard to know whether the destination on the front of this bus struck fear or relief into the minds of its passengers. Residents in the block where Merah is locked in a stand-off with police were taken to safety after spending several hours in fear in their flats. They were loaded onto a bus marked “special” and driven away from the scene.

11.35 We have a little more from that fascinating call Mohammed Merah reportedly made to the news channel France 24 in the early hours. He is said to have told a journalist that he was motivated by France’s ban on wearing the Burka. Ebba Kalondo, the deputy head of the channel’s Africa service, says Merah wanted to “take revenge on the law against the full Islamic veil (in France) and also in France’s participation in the war in Afghanistan and to protest against the situation in Palestine.” Kalondo said:

He was a very eloquent young man. He wasn’t at all agitated, nor excited. Very, very calm, very convinced by what he was saying, very polite. He didn’t stop saying it was just the beginning.
He told her: “Either I go to prison my head held high or to death with a smile.”

11.26 The Telegraph’s Fiona Govan reports from the scene: Police have cut electricity and gas to the apartment black where seige continues.

11.23 Some reports now suggest that Mohammed Merah, the alleged Toulouse gunman, is 23, not 24, as previously stated. We will try to clarify this and update.

11.18 Ghulam Faruq tells Reuters that Merah was detained by security services on Dec 19, 2007 for bomb making offences. He escaped from captivity during an insurgent attack on the jail where he was being held.

11.08 Breaking news from Reuters: alleged gunman Mohammed Merah was previously arrested for planting bombs in Kandahar, Afghanistan, according to Ghulam Faruq, the director of prisons in Kandahar. He was sentenced to three years in prison but escaped in a mass jailbreak in 2008 orchestrated by the Taliban, Furuq told Reuters.

11.01 President Nicolas Sarkozy has also paid tribute to the “exceptional work” of the police in tracing the alleged killer and said he would visit Toulouse attending a memorial service today for the French paratroopers who were shot dead by the gunman in Montauban.

10.44 Extremists must stop using the Palestinian cause to justify their acts of violence, Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad says. His comments come after the alleged gunman, Mohammed Merah, claimed his string of shootings were in revenge for the deaths of Palestinians. Fayyad said in a statement:
*It is time for these criminals to stop marketing their terrorist acts in the name of Palestine and to stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children who only ask for a decent life.

10.41 And their pleas are answered: AFP reports that police have begun evacuating the building.

Residents of the small five-storey building had stayed inside their flats under police orders after the operation to capture the suspected shooter was launched. Police said they would be handed over to psychiatric counsellors.

10.34 Residents living in the same block as the gunman are reportedly begging to be let out, although experts claim evacuating the building could hamper negotiations with the suspect. A neighbour trapped in the property, who asked not to be identified, told France Info radio by telephone: “You must ask them to get us out. There are shooting noises and the sound of the man who is talking to him.”

Cédric Delage, head of the UNSA police union in the Midi-Pyrénées region, ruled out an evacuation at this stage.

In an anti-terror operation with the arrest of a dangerous individual, it is impossible to evacuate. The evacuation of the building would be the best way to alert the suspect.

10.30 French President Nicolas Sarkozy says the shootings will not divide France. In a brief statement at the Elysee presidential palace, he said:

Terrorism will not succeed in fracturing our national community. We must be united. We must give in neither to discrimination nor revenge. I have brought together the Jewish and Muslim communities to show that terrorism will not manage to break our nation’s feeling of community.

10.11 Claude Guéant, the interior minister, says Mohammed Merah, the alleged gunman, had been “followed for several years by the DCRI intelligence services”. He said:

They never had any proof that he was preparing a criminal act. He committed several acts of delinquency, a dozen, some with violence His radicalisation took place within a group with a Salafist ideology and undertook two trips, one to Afghanistan one to Pakistan.

10.05 Breaking news from AFP. Police now say they have detained the alleged gunman’s mother, brother and his brother’s girlfriend. Henry Samuel reports that a second brother and two sisters of the gunman have also been arrested.

09.47 France’s most senior Muslim leader says the gunman has acted against Islam. Mohammed Moussaoui, head of the French Muslim Council said:

These acts are in total contradiction with the foundations of this religion. France’s Muslims are offended by this claim of belonging to this religion.

09.34 France 24 has some interesting detail of the alleged conversation between the gunman and its editor in chief, Ebba Kalondo. His comments support much of what the French authorities have said about the man’s background and motives. However, they also report that the gunman claims footage of the shootings will be published online today. This supports claims yesterday that the gunman wore a GoPro camera to film himself carrying out the shootings. France 24 have all the details of that conversation here.

09.24 The gunman reportedly phoned the French rolling news channel France 24 in the early hours today, claiming to be linked to al-Qaeda and that the his crimes were revenge attacks for Palestinian deaths, reports Henry Samuel.

Ebba Kalondo, the editor in chief of rolling news channel France 24, said she received a phone call from a man claiming to be the killer in the early hours of this morning before special forces surrounded him. He gave details of the number of bullets fired in the three crimes and the type of arms used.
Kalondo said:
He said he was linked to al Qaeda and that it was just the beginning. He said everything was filmed and would soon be on the internet.

09.16 Claude Guéant, the interior minister, has elaborated a little on the trade-off between police negotiators and the gunman. He says the pistol discarded from a window of the property was in exchange for a “communication device”:

He is currently in a dialogue with a police official and he says, I do not know if he is telling the truth, that he will hand himself in later in the day.

Gueant said the suspect is thought to be armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Mini-Uzi 9mm machine pistol and other handguns, but had thrown a .45 pistol he used to murder seven people in recent weeks from the window.

The presumed guilty party asked for a means to communicate with police. In exchange for this means of communication, he threw a Colt .45 from the window. He has certainly thrown one weapon out, but he has others.

09.08 Jérome, a neighbour of the suspect, was woken up at 3am to the sound of gunfire. He said:

We heard banging in the stairwell, then shots rang out. We could smell gunpowder. We all dropped to the ground. People were shouting and then they returned fire.
I saw the RAID (special forces) go up, I opened the door to my balcony for them. They came in, put their machine guns on the table, made a plan and went back down the stairs.

He said the suspect was unassuming.

He was quiet, had a little beard. I thought he was a student. It’s incredible he was behind these attacks.

08.50 The Telegraph’s James Orr reports on the breakthroughs which led police to the suspected gunman:
First, officers questioning local scooter dealers following the attacks were told by one owner how a customer’s enquiries over how to alter his bike had made him suspicious. The rider had apparently requested a garage in Toulouse to have his Yamaha repainted. He had also asked how to turn off a built-in tracking device which allows stolen machines to be traced, it was reported.
Police are also believed to have uncovered a significant lead when investigating an online advert for the sale of a scooter placed by a 30-year-old soldier who was killed last week. Emails to the paratrooper, in which arrangements were made to view the bike, may have been sent by the gunman’s brother. Detectives were then able to identify which computer was used to send the emails.

08.45 The rector of Paris’s Grand Mosque urged the country not to stigmatise its Muslim citizens following the disclosure that the gunman has claimed to be an Al-Qaeda member. Dalil Boubakeur said”99.9 percent” of Muslims in France are law-abiding citizens and that the killings of three soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi in the Toulouse region were the work of a tiny “fringe”.

I’m competely surprised that the author of these misdeeds be from a fundamentalist, jihadist, terrorist-type movement of the kind we thought was controlled, neutralised and harmless in our country
We understand the seriousness of this news … because it is important not to mix this up with the Muslim religion, which is 99.9 percent peaceful, civic-minded, reasonable, non-violent and entirely integrated in our country.

08.42 The funerals for the three French-Israeli children and a teacher who were gunned down at a Jewish school in Toulouse have begun in Isreal. AFP reports:
Around 1,000 mourners, many of them weeping, could be seen at the sprawling Givat Shaul cemetery on the western outskirts of Jerusalem as the four bodies were carried to the gravesite.

08.40 Breaking news from AFP: French police name suspect as Mohammed Merah, 24, of Algerian origin.



RPT-Killings sour good life for high-flying Toulouse

By John Irish, Reuters
20.03.12

TOULOUSE – From the ancient university at its rose-pink mediaeval heart to the booming aerospace plants that now fill its sunny skies with jetstreams, Toulouse, fast-growing old capital of the south, is a city of dreams for many in France.

All the more shocking then that a gunman, suspected of killing three children and a rabbi and three soldiers of North African origin in the name of al Qaeda, stalked its streets.

“It’s an exceptionally open and welcoming city, where the lifestyle of the southwest reigns supreme,” said Gerard Bapt, a local member of parliament, on Tuesday, referencing the French image of the region as one of sunshine and song, hearty cuisine and a certain raffish insouciance toward the business of life.

“So something like this comes as a shock for us.”

A crossroads since Roman times between the Mediterranean and Atlantic and routes from the north to Spain across the Pyrenees, Toulouse has boomed in recent decades as a home to European plane maker Airbus, the French space agency CNES and a hothouse of researchers clustered around its 800-year-old university.

But if the city, now jostling with older industrial hubs in the north for the rank of France’s third biggest, has been a magnet for engineers and others seeking a good life in the rolling green hinterland and elegant, pink-brick squares of “La Ville Rose”, it is also a magnet for many poorer immigrants.

In Le Mirail, a gigantic housing project of the 1950s, built like many in France on the ill-served fringes of the town, live some 100,000 people, many with roots in Africa or the Caribbean. Many have struggled for decades to find a place in society. There have been frequent clashes with police, who complain of stretched resources and a rise in petty crime across the city.

“While the population has shot up, police resources have stagnated,” complained Didier Martinez, a police trade union representative, explaining in part what local people say was a reduction in protection for the Jewish school.

“With the resources in Toulouse, we cannot be permanently outside every school, synagogue and mosque,” Martinez added.

HISTORY, FUTURE

That tensions over immigration and economic change, which exist across France, should surface in Toulouse has been a blow to the self-confidence of a city that has reinvented itself.

It remains steeped in a history in which it played the role of capital for the independent-minded barons and people of the Languedoc – the southern swathe of territory where French was a foreign language and which long resisted giving full obedience to Paris, a process only completed after the 1789 revolution.

A cockpit of religious wars in the 13th Century, when popes and kings of France crusaded with blood and fire against the Albigensian, or Cathar, heretics of the region, Toulouse saw the birth of the Dominican order of friars, whose simple piety was aimed at appeasing those who rebelled against church excesses.

In the same period, Toulouse’s Jews were driven out, ending centuries in which a community survived, and sometimes thrived, despite a local custom that saw Jewish elders forced to submit to ritual beatings by Christians as a form of penance, prompted by church teachings about Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus.

In the 20th century, a city whose Renaissance centre recalls the riches of the trade in “pastel”, the blue dye woad, became a nursery for the aviation industry when German forces occupied France’s heavy industrial heartland in the north. And when civil war tore Spain apart in the 1930s, Toulouse welcomed thousands of refugees, whose culture still influences the city today.

“It was a very peaceful city,” said former mayor Philippe Douste-Blazy, who was once also France’s foreign minister.

“But it’s true there’s been a steady rise in crime with the increase in population.”

One Algerian living in the city for the past five years, 37-year-old Ahmed, was no less stunned than the politicians: “How can this sort of thing happen in Toulouse? I feel sick inside.”

CULTURE, INDUSTRY

Local industry, which gave birth to the Caravelle jetliner in the 1950s, the supersonic Concorde and the growing Airbus fleet of airliners, has also brought its dangers. Thirty-one Toulousains were killed in 2001 when the AZF chemical blew up.

But the principal effect of the thriving factories around the city’s periphery has been a population boom, adding some 20,000 people a year to an urban area that is now home to about a million, nearly one in 10 of whom is a university student.

A local Jewish group estimates there are about 2,500 Jewish families in Toulouse many of whom fled France’s former colonies in North Africa after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. A Muslim association has estimated there are some 35,000 Muslims in town.

Aside from jobs, the city has much to offer those drawn to the southwest. The industrial boom has brought investment in public theatres and other entertainments, a metro underground railway and a host of other infrastructure.

And then there are the timeless charms of the local way of life: it boasts a rich culture, delivered in a distinctive twang; a sporting heritage in which the local rugby team is a source of pride, one of the world powers in the game; and, of course, the cuisine – from rich local wines and Armagnac brandy, to fois gras duck liver and cassoulet, a bean stew often featuring the garlicky local sausage, saucisse de Toulouse.

Monday’s deaths have soured the good life, for now. Along with a number of other festivities and performances, the Carnival the city was due to hold this week has been cancelled.
Additional reporting and writing by Nicholas Vinocur



French police corner Toulouse shootings suspect

By Alex Peyrille , AFP
21.03.12

TOULOUSE, France — A blast rang out Wednesday as French police besieged a flat where an Islamist suspect in a series of deadly shootings was holed up, claiming he had acted to avenge Palestinian children.

Two officers had already been wounded as shots rang out in the ongoing operation to arrest the suspect, thought to be a French national of North African origin who told officers he was a member of the Al-Qaeda network.

Armed officers investigating three recent attacks in which a scooter-riding killer gunned down seven people, including three Jewish children, sealed off an address in a residential district of the southern city of Toulouse.

Bursts of gunfire rang out periodically, AFP reporters at the scene said.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant said the suspect’s brother had been detained, although he confirmed that only one suspect had been at the scenes of the three shooting attacks carried out since March 11.

The suspect had previously been arrested on a matter of common law in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, cradle of the Taliban, police said.

The victims of the attacks were three soldiers of North African origin, three Jewish children and a rabbi. The police raid came on the day that the Jewish victims were due to be buried in Jerusalem.

Gueant said the 24-year-old suspect had spoken to officers through the door of his apartment, and declared himself to be a “mujaheedeen” or Islamic warrior fighting to avenge Palestinian children killed in the conflict with Israel.

Gueant confirmed two officers had been lightly wounded in the raid, during which the suspect had shot through a door. He said later that he hoped to capture the suspect “alive and in a condition where he could face justice.”

“The suspect’s mother was brought to the scene. She was asked to make contact with her son, to reason with him, but she did not want to, saying she had little influence on him,” Gueant said.

“This person has made trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the past … and says he belongs to Al-Qaeda and says he wanted to avenge Palestinian children and to attack the French army,” he added.

“He has links with people involved in Jihadism and Salafism,” he added, referring to two strains of Muslim thought that have influenced Al-Qaeda.

Neighbours leaving the cordoned area said the suspect was on the first storey of the building in the leafy residential area. They said the first shots had rung out around 3:00 a.m. (0200 GMT).

Paris Grand Mosque Recter Dalil Boubakeur urged France not to stigmatise its Muslim citizens in the wake of the shootings, saying “99.9 percent” of Muslims here were law-abiding citizens and the killings were the work of a tiny “fringe”.

If the suspect is proved to have been responsible for the killings, it would bring to an end one of the most intense manhunts in French history and help calm tensions after the series of attacks disrupted a presidential election.

The shootings began on March 11, when a paratrooper of North African origin arranged to meet a man in Toulouse to sell him a scooter which he had advertised online, revealing in the ad his military status.

A message sent from the suspect’s brother’s IP address was used to set up an appointment to inspect the bike, an appointment at which paratrooper Imad Ibn Ziaten was subsequently killed, a police source said.

Ibn Ziaten, a 30-year-old staff sergeant in the 1st Airborne Transportation Regiment, was shot in the head at close range with a .45 calibre pistol, a method that was to become the suspect’s signature.

Four days later three more paratroopers from another regiment were gunned down — two of them fatally — in the same fashion in a street in the nearby garrison town of Montauban.

The dead — Corporal Abel Chennouf, 25, and Private First Class Mohammed Legouade, 23, both of the 17th Parachute Engineering Regiment — were French soldiers of North African Arab origin.

Arab soldiers are prized targets for groups like Al-Qaeda, which regards Muslims who fight for Western armies as traitors.

Then on Monday the shooter, still wearing a motorcycle helmet and riding a scooter, attacked the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse, killing a religious studies teacher, his toddler sons and a seven-year-old girl.

Anti-terrorist magistrates said the same gun and and make of scooter was used in all three attacks and noted that the three attacks were carried out at precise four-day intervals.

On Wednesday, the bodies of the four Jewish victims arrived in Israel.

President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Socialist rival for the presidency Francois Hollande were due to attend a memorial ceremony for the slain soldiers in Montauban later Wednesday.

Ibn Ziaten was to be buried in Morocco, while his dead comrades were due for burial in France on Wednesday and Thursday.

Both Sarkozy and Hollande temporarily suspended their campaigns following Monday’s attack, with France was traumatised by an unprecedented series of hate crimes.



Live Coverage: Suspect in French Jewish school shooting had broken out of Afghanistan prison

Suspect in French Jewish school shooting cuts contact with police; Toulouse area evacuated; Netanyahu: We must fight propaganda against Israelis, Jews that leads to such barbaric acts.

By Anshel Pfeffer, Barak Ravid and Reuters, Ha’aretz

21.03.12

TOULOUSE – French school shooting suspect Mohamed Merah had been arrested for bomb making in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar in 2007 but broke out of jail months later after a daring Taliban prison break, the director of prisons in Kandahar told Reuters.

Ghulam Faruq said that Merah was detained by security services on Dec. 19, 2007 and was sentenced to three years in jail for planting bombs in Kandahar province, the Taliban’s birthplace.

Other reports said the suspect trained with Pakistani Taliban militants before going to Afghanistan to fight with the insurgents. According to the French Interior Minister Claude Gueant, the suspect was followed for several years by France’s domestic intelligence service.

Earlier Wednesday, Merah cut off contact with police in a Toulous neighborhood after saying he would turn himself in. The area where the suspect is barricading himself has been evacuated.

The 24-year-old man has already turned over a Colt handgun by throwing it out of the window in exchange for a means of communication with police, Gueant said.

French police began a raid on a house in Toulouse at 3 A.M. local time on Wednesday to arrest suspects in the shooting at the Ozar Hatorah school. The interior minister told French media that French police believe the prime suspect in the shooting is believed to be in the house. Two French police were injured in a shoot-out during the raid.

Meanwhile, a funeral service for the three victims of the shooting at the Jewish school in Toulouse earlier this week began in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning.

In a Wednesday meeting with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who was in Israel to attend the Jerusalem funeral of the three victims of the Jewish school shooting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “We must fight the extraordinary propaganda against innocent Israelis and Jews everywhere, that leads these people to commit such barbaric acts.”

Netanyahu expressed his appreciation of French President Sarkozy and the French government’s actions, and went on to say that “the struggle against terrorism requires more clarity.”

“Terrorism is an attack systematically directed against civilians, a deliberate attack against children. There is a fundamental difference between a deliberate attack against civilians and unintentional damage to civilians as part of a legitimate fight against terrorism. If we do not make that distinction, if we allow the acceptance of such false definition, the terrorists have won,” the prime minister said.



French police in talks with besieged suspect

Twenty-four-year-old man surrounded by police, as victims shot outside Toulouse school are buried in Israel.

Al Jazeera
21.03.12

Police in the French city of Toulouse have surrounded a man suspected to be behind Monday’s killing of four people outside a Jewish school and that of three soldiers a few days earlier.

Claude Gueant, the French interior minister, said the 24-year-old suspect had in negotiations with the police agreed to give himself up in the afternoon.

“He said…he will turn himself in this afternoon,” Gueant told BFM television, adding that the police were determined to take him alive so that he could stand trial.

A police source identified the suspect as Mohammed Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, the AFP news agency reported.

Gunshots were heard after the police raided the five-storey building at 03:00am (0200 GMT) on Wednesday.Three policemen were reportedly injured in the shootout after the suspect shot through the door.

The suspect later exchanged one of his weapons for a cellphone. The police, however, said he still had several weapons.

The mother of the suspect had arrived at the scene to negotiate a surrender.

Brother arrested
Speaking to journalists, Gueant said the suspect was a French man and and “he belongs to al-Qaeda.”

He said the suspect wanted to “take revenge for Palestinian children” killed in the Middle East, and was angry at the French military for its operations abroad.

Michael Stephens, a researcher with the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar, however, told Al Jazeera the interior minister needed to step back until there was more evidence.

“There is very little evidence of organisational structure behind the attack. It is more likely he was acting alone and radicalised by al-Qaeda ideas,” he said.

Gueant further added that the man’s brother was arrested and he was known to authorities for having spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Toulouse, said the operation was ongoing.

The raid came as three children and a rabbi gunned down outside the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse were buried in Israel.

The bodies had earlier arrived in Israel after being flown by Israeli El Al airlines.

Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, along with 50 relatives and friends of the victims accompanied the bodies as they were flown home.

Jonathan Sandler, a 30-year-old Frenchman, his two sons Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 4 as well as seven-year-old Myriam Monsonego were buried at the Givat Shaul cemetery in Jerusalem.

President Nicolas Sarkozy paid silent homage to the victims on Tuesday at a school in Paris close to the city’s Holocaust memorial, and afterwards admitted that authorities had as yet no clue as to the identity of the killer.

“Anti-Semitism is obvious. The Jewish school attack was an anti-Semitic crime,” Sarkozy told reporters at the Paris school after meeting children.

Attack on soldiers

French investigators fear the same gunman also killed three soldiers in two recent separate attacks.

The soldiers were French citizens of North African origin, while another who was critically wounded in the attack was black and from the French West Indies.

French police on Monday launched a huge manhunt after the shooting, and the region was put on its highest level of security alert.
Police said that the same weapon and the same stolen scooter appeared to have been used in all three attacks.

All three attacks were carried out by the rider using a .45-calibre weapon, who witnesses described as calmly shooting his victims.

The gunman may also have recorded the attack with an extreme sports video camera strapped to his chest, the French interior minister said.

“A witness saw a small video camera around the killer’s neck,” Gueant told Europe 1 radio on Tuesday.

“It’s a video camera worn in a harness on the chest and indeed he was seen, a witness said so, with this device,” Gueant said. “I don’t know if he filmed everything.”

All seven people slain in three attacks were shot in the head at point blank range, the prosecutor leading the investigation said on Tuesday.

Separatly, a package bomb exploded at the Indonesian embassy in Paris on Wednesday, causing minor damage but no injuries, police said.

“We received information at 5 am Paris time that there was a bomb,” Teuku Faizasyah, spokesman for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said. “We’re still looking for clarity whether we are really a target or not.”

Source:Al Jazeera and agencies



Fayyad: Stop using Palestinians to justify terror
Ma’an news
21.03.12

RAMALLAH — PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Wednesday condemned the killing of three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in France, rejecting the suspected gunman’s motive of avenging Palestinian children killed by Israel.

“This terrorist crime is condemned in the strongest terms by the Palestinian people and our children … No Palestinian child can accept crimes against innocent people,” Fayyad said in a statement.

The suspect Mohamed Merah, 24, claimed to belong to al-Qaida, and to want revenge for Palestinian children and French military involvement abroad, according to France’s Interior Minister Claude Gueant.

He is also suspected by authorities of killing three soldiers of North African origin last week.

After an hours-long siege in a Toulouse neighborhood in southwestern France on Wednesday — in which he wounded three officers — Merah said he would hand himself over to police in the afternoon.

Fayyad slammed the shootings as an “attack on innocent lives … a cowardly terrorist act,” denouncing the attempt to link the crime to solidarity with Palestinians.

“It is time for these criminals to stop exploiting the name of Palestine through their terrorist actions, and to stop pretending to stand up for Palestinian children, who only seek a decent life for themselves and for all children of the world,” he added.

The PLO’s diplomatic mission to Paris, meanwhile, denounced the attack. Palestinians “condemn in the strongest possible terms the hateful attack carried out in Toulouse,” a statement said.

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