PROFILE: Suspected Toulouse Gunman Associated With al-Qaida, Taliban

Mohamed Merah, a French citizen of Algerian origin, was arrested in Afghanistan for planting bombs but later escaped in mass prison break.

Reuters
Reuters
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Reuters
Reuters

French school shooting suspect Mohamed Merah was jailed for bombings in Afghanistan in 2007, but escaped months later in a mass prison break organized by Taliban insurgents, a top Afghan prison official said on Wednesday.

Merah, a French citizen of Algerian origin, is suspected of killing seven people in the name of the al-Qaida militant network, including three children at a Jewish school in southwestern France.

French CRS police block a street during a raid on the home of the suspect in the Toulouse killings on March 21, 2012. Credit: Reuters

Afghan security forces detained Merah on Dec. 19, 2007, and he was sentenced to three years in jail for planting bombs in the southern province of Kandahar, the Taliban's birthplace, Kandahar prison chief Ghulam Faruq said, citing prison documents.

Merah escaped along with up to 1,000 prisoners, including 400 Taliban insurgents, during an attack on southern Afghanistan's main Sarposa Prison in June 2008, when the Taliban blew apart the main gate with a big truck bomb.

The high-security prison, on Kandahar's southern outskirts, has separate compounds for ordinary criminals and inmates being held for political and insurgency-related offences. Merah was likely in the political section, prison sources said.

He was in Afghanistan at a time when Afghan security officials were pleading for more international help, saying more than 4,000 foreign fighters had flocked to the country to aid the Taliban, most of them from Chechnya, North Africa and Pakistan.

It was not clear where Merah fled to after he escaped from prison and how or when he arrived in France, but many foreign fighters left the conflict-racked country as a surge in NATO reinforcements gained momentum in 2009.

French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said the gunman had been to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and had carried out his killings in revenge for French military involvement abroad.

France has 3,600 troops in Afghanistan as part of the 130,000-strong NATO-led force, mainly patrolling Kapisa, a mountainous province near Kabul. They are to shift their focus in March to training and leave the country at the end of 2013.

In Pakistan, an intelligence official who declined to be identified said Merah had never been arrested there.

"We have no information about him," the Pakistani official said.

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

SUBSCRIBE
Already signed up? LOG IN

ICYMI

Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer

Newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Chile, Gil Artzyeli, poses for a group picture alongside Rabbi Yonatan Szewkis, Chilean deputy Helia Molina and Gerardo Gorodischer, during a religious ceremony in a synagogue in Vina del Mar, Chile last week.

Chile Community Leaders 'Horrified' by Treatment of Israeli Envoy

Queen Elizabeth attends a ceremony at Windsor Castle, in June 2021.

Over 120 Countries, but Never Israel: Queen Elizabeth II's Unofficial Boycott