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Was Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah an informant for French spies?

France 2 via AP

Mohamed Merah shown in this image from French TV station France 2

Mohamed Merah, the gunman who killed seven people including three Jewish children, may have been an informant for France's intelligence services, according to reports that raise further questions about whether authorities missed chances to prevent the attacks.

The 23-year-old, who is a French citizen of Algerian origin, shot dead three Muslim soldiers as well as three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school before being slain by police commandos at the end of a 32-hour standoff in an apartment in Toulouse.

It later emerged Merah had traveled to Afghanistan and Israel in 2010 and had been interviewed in November 2011 by the domestic intelligence agency Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur (DCRI).

Bernard Squarcini, head of the agency, was quoted by French newspaper Le Monde as saying Merah asked for a local DCRI agent by name while he was holed-up in the apartment surrounded by police.

Father of Toulouse gunman wants to sue France for killing son

Squarcini told Le Monde that Merah shocked the female agent by saying: "Anyway, I was going to call you to say I had some tip-offs for you, but actually I was going to [kill] you.”

Merah, who told police he had been inspired to commit his attacks by al-Qaida, used the French word "fumer", which means "to smoke," which is a slang term that also means to "murder" or "waste."

Squarcini’s remarks to Le Monde were reported in other French media, including Liberation and Le Figaro.


'Not trivial'
Yves Bonnet, former head of an intelligence agency that was merged with DCRI in 2008, told Toulouse newspaper La Dépêche du Midi that it was significant that Merah appeared to have a regular contact at the DCRI. “Having a contact is not totally innocent,” he told the newspaper. “This is not trivial.”

Italian newspaper Il Foglio said Merah’s trip to Israel and Afghanistan in September 2010 was made with the knowledge of the French foreign secret service, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure. However, London's Independent newspaper quoted a spokesman for the agency as dismissing that report as "grotesque".

Squarcini has since insisted Merah was not helping authorities, telling Liberation the gunman was not "an informer for the DCRI or any other French or foreign services."

Meanwhile, Merah’s body will be flown to Algeria on Thursday if the country agrees to receive it, an official at one of the biggest mosques in Paris told Reuters.

Abdallah Zekri said Merah's body was being kept at a hospital in Toulouse while Algerian authorities decided whether they were willing to receive it. French media had reported that Merah's father had requested burial in Algeria.

On Tuesday, Merah's father, Mohamed Benalen Merah, lashed out at French authorities for killing his son. The elder Merah, who lives in Algeria, had earlier said he wanted to sue France.

"France is a powerful country with huge resources," Merah told France 24 television. "They could have taken him while he slept. They could have used a sleep-inducing gas and taken him like a baby. Why were they so hasty? Why did they kill him?"

"They could have arrested him and had him face justice," he added.

However, the BBC said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe responded: "If I were the father of such a monster, I would shut my mouth in shame.”

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