The Next Attack Has Been Prevented, but Difficult Questions Remain

The French will ask why the intelligence and security services did not act sooner, but at least the next murder, already planned, won't take place. And how will this affect the upcoming elections?

The ordeal that started ten days ago with the murder of a French soldier in Toulouse has come to an end this afternoon. The hair-raising ordeal was concluded when the siege on the apartment of suspect Mohamed Merah resulted in his death. This is not a good ending – not when a steadfast murderer with proud ties to Islamic extremism managed to kill seven French citizens within two weeks, as well as injure two policemen that led the final raid.

Now that the dust has settled, the French will be asking why the murderer was not taken out from outside of the building, or why there was not an attempt to capture him alive after learning that he wished to die as a martyr.

Toulous - AFP - March 22, 2012

The fact that the investigation, which picked up speed after the massacre at the Ozar Hatorah school, resulted in the identification of suspect within 48 hours, and led to his death at the hands of police before he was able to perform any more acts against French civilians, allows the French people to breathe at least one sigh of relief. The next murder, already planned, will not take place.

Still, difficult questions have already begun to arise in the French public discourse: why was there no accurate intelligence on the Frenchman that went on two suspicious trips to Afghanistan? Where was the otherwise efficient French security service that has yet to allow an al-Qaida attack on French soil? Why was the investigation not passed on to the counterterrorism unit of the French general attorney, after the first, and then the second murders? Why did the French police remain passive, even after a neighbor in Toulouse complained numerous times that Merah was trying to recruit her son to carry out acts of Jihad? Those responsible will have to answer these questions, in light of the lives lost in the series of murders.

It is important to remember the successful aspects of the hardy French operations: the unprecedented amount of investigators brought onto the scene in order to follow dozens of different leads, and the lightning speed in which the investigation progressed after a desperately slow start. As soon as Merah was identified as the person responsible for the murders, police forces succeeded in understanding his motives and neutralizing him, as well arresting members of his family. Very quickly, French police restored a semblance of security to the people of France and specifically Toulouse, taken from them during March 2012, a month whose memory will always be clouded in darkness.

Of course, there are political questions as well. The election campaigns, put on hold by some candidates, are starting up again in full force. Jewish and Muslim community representatives pleaded with politicians after a meeting at the Élysée Palace on Wednesday, asking them not to turn these tragic events into the crux of the election campaigns. It is clear to all, however, that the tragic ordeal will influence the election campaigns as they near the home stretch. The first round of elections will be held in exactly one month, on April 22, with the second round taking place on the sixth of June. In France, the coming weeks will most definitely be filled with political turmoil.