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Toulouse gunman's brother denies complicity charges
French judges on Monday grilled the brother of Mohammed Merah, the al Qaeda-inspired terrorist who carried out a series of deadly shootings in Toulouse last March. Abdelkader Merah has denied being complicit in his brother's deadly acts.
The brother of France’s al Qaeda-inspired terrorist Mohammed Merah has told judges he had no part in the series of deadly shootings that claimed lives of seven people in Toulouse earlier this year.
Abdelkader Merah, 29, faced lengthy questioning by specialist anti-terrorist judges for the first time on Monday.
His 23-year-old sibling was behind the cold-blooded killing of three Jewish children, a Rabbi and three soldiers in and around the southwestern city of Toulouse in March this year.
Mohammed admitted carrying out the killings before he was shot dead by armed police at the end of a dramatic 30-hour siege at his Toulouse apartment.
'Complicity charges are baseless'
Abdelkader has been held in custody since the killings on suspicion of complicity in terrorism, murder and theft.
He is currently the only suspect in custody for an alleged role in the murders. His lawyer, Eric Dupond-Moretti, rejected the accusations, saying his client "absolutely contests the charge of complicity to murder, which is not based on any objective element."
According to a police source in March, Abdelkader admitted to being present on March 6 when his younger brother stole the scooter used in all of the attacks, but claimed he did not realise it was to be used to carry out a shooting spree.
He was also grilled over his extreme religious beliefs.
"We discussed his religious commitment. It’s radical Islamism, but that doesn’t make him a criminal," Dupont-Moretti told Reuters television.
Abdelkader was previously known to security services for helping smuggle jihadist militants into Iraq in 2007. Described by people who know him as a more overtly devout Muslim than his younger brother, Abdelkader was believed to have exerted a strong influence on Mohammed in the years following their father’s departure to Algeria in 2006 or 2007.
Before his demise, Mohammed told negotiators he had carried out the attacks to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and protest against the French army’s role in Afghanistan. He made similar statements in an anonymous call to FRANCE 24 in the early morning hours before the siege began. Merah said said he regretted there were not more victims.
France rocked by lone gunman
In June this year, the Merahs' Algerian father, Mohammed Benalel, filed murder charges against the members of the specialist RAID team who stormed the flat and shot his son as he jumped from a window.
The shootings shocked the country and raised uncomfortable questions about intelligence failures and race relations in France.
In the months following the shootings, France saw a worrying rise in anti-semitic attacks. In June, the Service for the Protection of the Jewish Community (SPCJ) published a report condemning "the explosion" of anti-Semitic acts in the country since Merah’s killings.
According to statistics cited in the report, which were provided by the Interior Ministry, 148 anti-Semitic incidents, of which 43 were violent, were reported between March 19 and April 30. That's more than twice as many as the 68 recorded for the same period in 2011.
The report expressed real concern that “some of the people committing the acts feel empathy for Mohammed Merah.”