- Algeria - France - Toulouse shootings
Acrimony as gunman is buried in Toulouse
After days of speculation that he would be buried in Algeria, French-born gunman Mohamed Merah was finally laid to rest in Toulouse in the south-western region where the son of North African immigrants killed seven people in 10 days.
Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah was finally buried in Toulouse on Thursday, the same day that Algeria refused to receive his body and just hours after the mayor of Toulouse had called for a delay saying a funeral there would be “inappropriate”.
The interment of Mohamed Merah, who killed seven people in a 10-day shooting spree in south-west France, had been due to take place in Toulouse on Thursday after Algeria refused to accept his body on security grounds.
Following Algeria’s refusal to take Merah’s body, Abdallah Zekri of the French Muslim Council was tasked with organising a “discreet” funeral in France.
He told FRANCE 24 that the family had wanted Merah to be buried at Bezzaz, a village south of the Algerian capital Algiers.
“The mayor of Bezzaz was within his rights to forbid it,” he said. “He refused because he believed that the funeral would lead to public order problems.”
Soon after, Toulouse Mayor Pierre Cohen sought to prevent a second attempt at burying the gunman, arguing that it would be “inappropriate” to put him to rest in a city where he had caused such suffering.
On Thursday afternoon, French President Nicolas Sarkozy sought to draw a line under the issue, telling BFM TV that Merah would be buried “near Toulouse” on Friday.
“He was French,” Sarkozy said. “Let’s just bury him and be done with it.”
Merah, branded a “monster” by French leaders, was shot dead by police on March 22 after a two-day siege of his Toulouse apartment.
In ten days and in three separate incidents, the 23-year-old, whose parents are Algerian, shot and killed three serving paratroopers – all of North African origin – as well as a young rabbi and three children outside a Jewish school.
The crimes horrified the country and brought the presidential campaign to a standstill.
After reports on Thursday that Merah had indeed been buried in Toulouse, there was an immediate backlash from the far-right National Front.
“This man bloodied our soil and our flag,” Party Leader Marine Le Pen said in a statement. “But Mohamed Merah has been buried in France after the undignified capitulation of President Nicolas Sarkozy to the Algerian authorities.”
The intense speculation in France as to whether Merah would be sent to Algeria has been an “irritation” in the former French colony, according to Faycal Metaoui, a journalist on the country’s biggest French-language daily El Watan.
“The French political class and media have not stopped referring to his Algerian origins, while this was a man who was born in France and was obviously French,” he told FRANCE 24. “People are irritated because of the persistent negative undertones that come from associating these vile crimes with Algeria. It feels like France is trying to wash its hands of the responsibility.”
El Watan on Thursday published an article titled “The scathing reactions of our readers to the Mohamed Merah episode”.
Published before Algeria’s refusal to receive Merah’s body was announced, one reader’s reaction was: “It is deeply shameful for us Algerians to accept to receive the body of this monster. He was a product of France. Let him stay over there.”
The same tone came across in daily L’Expression, which said in an Op-Ed piece on Wednesday: “This entirely French affair had nothing to do with this country until this business with the burial. But this is the body of a Frenchman, born in France who committed his crimes in France.”
Arabic-language daily Al Fadjr (Dawn) was even more explicit. “We allowed this country to be a dumping ground for French nuclear waste,” the newspaper said in an editorial, referring to one of the most controversial legacies of colonial rule. “We will not allow it to become a dumping ground for French terrorist waste.”