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article imageBrother of gunman who attacked French Jews goes on trial

By Pierre ROCHICCIOLI (AFP)     Oct 1, 2017 in Crime

The brother of the Islamist radical who shot dead seven people in southwest France in 2012, including three Jewish schoolchildren, went on trial Monday accused of complicity in the first of a wave of attacks by homegrown jihadists.

Mohamed Merah's attack on the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse was the deadliest on Jews in France in three decades.

The 23-year-old Toulouse native gunned down a rabbi, two of the rabbi's children aged three and five and an eight-year girl.

Over the course of his nine-day killing spree he also shot dead three soldiers based in the nearby garrison town of Montauban before police killed him after a 32-hour siege of his home.

The attacks, which Merah carried out in the name of Al-Qaeda, were the first in a wave of jihadist assaults that continued in 2015 with the massacre at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a bloodbath at a Paris concert hall.

In the latest incident, a man shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) stabbed two women to death at the main train station in Marseille on Sunday.

The trial of Merah's brother Abdelkader is the first arising out of the spate of killings.

Emotions ran high in the Paris courtroom as the 35-year-old, who in 2012 had declared himself "proud" of his brother's actions, was brought into in the dock.

"Pile of shit," Samuel Sandler, who lost his rabbi son and two grandchildren in the school shooting, hissed repeatedly as Merah's mother blew her son a kiss from the public gallery.

- Ticking bomb -

Abdelkader Merah is accused of helping to facilitate his brother's attacks, in particular by helping him steal the scooter used in three separate shootings.

His co-defendant, 34-year-old Fettah Malki, is accused of helping Mohamed Merah obtain a bulletproof jacket, Uzi submachine gun and ammunition.

Neither man denies helping the gunman obtain materials but claim they were unaware of his intentions.

Abdelkader faces a possible life sentence while Malki could get 20 years in prison.

Dressed in white, with a flowing beard and long hair pulled back in a ponytail, Merah told the court he was employed as a painter and decorator.

Abdelghani Merah, the eldest of the brothers, who has disavowed his family to become a campaigner for peace, told France Inter radio that his parents -- both Algerian immigrants -- had provided "fertile ground for hatred".

"Our parents tried to educate us through the (prism of the) post-colonial traumatism between France and Algeria, the hatred of Jews, through conspiracy ideas and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he said.

"Mohamed Merah was immersed in all that. He was a bomb and the Salafists (ultraconservative Muslims) were the detonator."

- 'Blood on his soul' -

Mohamed Merah, who had a history of violence and crime, ran rings around French intelligence services.

Questioned by the authorities on his return from a trip to a tribal area of Pakistan where he met an Al-Qaeda offshoot, he claimed he had been on a mission to find a wife.

"This trial will also be the chance to discuss dysfunctions at government agencies, notably in Merah's surveillance," said Olivier Morice, a lawyer for the family of one of the dead soldiers.

Investigators believe Abdelkader, who was also known to intelligence services for his ties to radical Islamists, had considerable influence over his brother.

Defending his sibling in 2012, the elder Merah had said: "Every Muslim would like to give his life to kill his enemy."

Prosecutors say the pair were repeatedly in contact in the days before the shootings.

"Abdelkader Merah expressed the sympathy he felt with his brother's acts. He is not a scapegoat," said Simon Cohen, a lawyer representing some of the plaintiffs.

"If Mohamed Merah has blood on his hands, Abdelkader has blood on his soul," he said.

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