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Latest update : 2012-03-22

Islamic extremist Mohammed Merah, 23 confessed to the cold-blooded murder of seven people including three Jewish children outside their school in Toulouse. FRANCE 24 takes a closer look at the possible profile of the killer.

“Cold, cruel and insensitive”, was how France’s Interior Minister Claude Gueant described the killer responsible for the horrific murder of three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse in the aftermath of the killings.

Gueant was speaking after it emerged the killer, now known to be 23-year-old Mohamed Merah, had filmed his murderous act at the Ozar Hatorah high-school after a witness reported seeing a camera strapped to his neck.

The thought that the killer might intend to watch a recording of himself shooting young children is yet another sickening detail in a crime that has horrified France.

But for detectives, it was a clue they could use to build a psychological profile of a murderer in the hope it will lead to the discovery of his identity.

Speaking to FRANCE 24 before Thursday’s denouement Jack Levin, a criminologist and hate-crime specialist from Boston’s Northeastern University said: “The existence of the camera indicates two possibilities,”

“Either he is a sadist who enjoys seeing the pain and suffering that he causes, or he has recorded his acts for political motives and will show them online at some point,” he said.

“In either case he will be proud of what he has done and will not see these acts as hideous crimes but as accomplishments,” Levin added.

A man seeking revenge

Police laying siege to Mohamed Merah’s apartment on Wednesday said the gunman had confessed to the killings and had told them that his only regret was the failure to kill more people.

Merah reportedly claimed links to al Qaeda and said the killings were motivated by a desire to avenge “the death of Palestinian children at the hands of the Israeli army” and anger at France’s participation in the war on Afghanistan.

But according to Levin, it is a perceived need for personal vengeance that will have inspired Merah’s extremist opinions and the acts he carried out.

“In most mass murders, the motivation is revenge or a need to get even with the enemy, and it’s most likely that is what is happening here. He sees himself as a victim and those he has killed as the villains,” Levin said.

“In many cases of mass murder, the killer has been depressed, frustrated and angry over a long period of time, and then there is an event that occurs that acts as a trigger,” Levin added. “That could be a personal problem or the loss of a job or a political act.”

French criminologist and author Stéphane Bourgoin told French daily newspaper Direct Matin, “He is a loser, a frustrated man, who has achieved nothing in his life… He is full of hate toward the society around him and he wants to feel valued.”

Not just a ‘crazed gunman’

The harrowing details emerging from witnesses to Merah’s three attacks pointed to a calculated and cold killer acting methodically rather than impulsively.

The first shooting linked to the gunman took place in Toulouse on March 11, when a soldier in a car park was shot after arranging a meeting to sell his scooter.

In the second attack linked to the assailant, the killer reportedly carefully moved a woman aside before opening fire on three soldiers in the town of Montauban on March 15. When one victim tried to crawl away, Merah calmly walked up to him, turned him over and fired again.

At the school shooting on March 19, witnesses described Merah chasing after a young girl before he grabbed her, held the gun to her head and pulled the trigger.

Prosecutors said on Tuesday each victim had been shot at point-blank range in the head.

The cold-blooded acts may appear deranged to most observers, but Levin said it would be a grave mistake to dismiss Merah as simply a "crazed killer".

“When people think of a massacre like in Toulouse, they tend to think of a crazy person being behind it, but in reality most mass murderers are quite rational. They are selective and methodical and plan their crimes to achieve the optimum result,” Levin said.

Date created : 2012-03-20


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