Friday’s French newspapers want an answer to one simple question: How was a known Islamic extremist allowed to murder seven people, including three children, in three separate attacks?
The Communist “L’Humanite” demands full disclosure of how closely France’s intelligence services had been following Merah before his attacks. The gunman had been arrested numerous times and had been to Afghanistan – someone should have been keeping a tab on him.
“Liberation” wanted to know how presidential politics – and the upcoming vote – influenced the bizarre way Police managed the capture, taking 32 hours and then, essentially, botching the job, as the suspect was killed.
“Le Figaro” was more cautious, warning against a rush to judgment. After all, the police on the spot were aware of much more detail than those intellectuals and politicians on the left and on the right “who never lose a chance to cry scandal.”
The Catholic “La Croix” also suggested Monday morning quarterbacks should wait for the full police account. But it demanded a full account, nevertheless..
Veteran police officer Christian Prouteau, who founded the GIGN — one of France’s elite police units — said in an interview with “Ouest France” that he wanted to know why police had not used tear gas to flush out Merah, and said he was astonished that they had failed to take him alive. “How come the police’s best unit did not manage to arrest a lone gunman?” he asked.
President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a televised address that he would crack down on extremism, and wanted legal action against people who regularly visit Jihadist websites or travel to suspect destinations.
But French politicians are asking how French intelligence officers had failed to interrupt Merah’s killing spree, when they were keeping a dossier on him as a Muslim extremist.
Police failure will certainly bolster the chances of Sarkozy’s main challenger, Socialist Francois Hollande, who, at a Thursday rally announced that “questions will have to be asked.”
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told Europe 1 radio that intelligence officers had recently questioned Merah. Juppe agreed their failure to stop him in time would have to be investigated.
The al-Qaida linked Jund al-Khilafah, claiming responsibility for Merah’s murders on Jihadist websites, stated “the Frenchman carried out an operation that shook the foundations of the Zionist Crusaders. Israel’s crimes will not go unpunished.”