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Brother of Toulouse gunman goes on trial for helping plan attacks

Remy Gabalda, AFP | The Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse in southwestern France after jihadist Mohamed Merah killed three children and a teacher on March 19, 2012.

Mohamed Merah killed seven people, including three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school, in a spate of shootings in 2012 before being gunned down by police. His brother goes on trial Monday in Paris, accused of helping him plan the attacks.

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Mohamed Merah, 23, went on a nine-day shooting spree in southern France in 2012, killing three French soldiers before gunning down a teacher and three children at a Jewish school. They were the first Islamist attacks on French soil since 1995 and were later claimed by a group affiliated with al Qaeda.

Judges now want to determine the role played by his brother Abdelkader Merah, 35, who stands accused of helping "prepare" the attack, specifically by stealing the scooter used in the three separate shootings.

He will appear alongside 34-year-old Fettah Malki, who is accused of giving Mohamed Merah a bulletproof jacket, an Uzi submachine gun and the ammunition he used on his victims.

Neither man denies giving Merah the items, but both have claimed they were unaware of his intentions. Abdelkader faces a possible life sentence while Malki could get 20 years in prison.

After the murders, Abdelkader Merah said he was "proud" of his brother and that "every Muslim would like to give his life to kill his enemy".

"Abdelkader Merah expressed the sympathy he felt with his brother's acts. He is not a scapegoat," said Simon Cohen, a lawyer representing 160 civil parties in the trial, including the school.

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

Under surveillance

The country has been under a state of emergency since the coordinated shootings of November 2015, including the massacre at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris. France has deployed soldiers to guard key sites, including synagogues and Jewish schools.

A spate of attacks has continued since then, most recently on Sunday when a man killed two women at the main train station in Marseille in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

Mohamed Merah was killed in a March 2012 police raid on his apartment in Toulouse after a 32-hour siege broadcast by media outlets around the world.

Investigators later discovered a GoPro camera and SD memory cards used to film his killings. Prosecutors are hoping judges will allow the footage to be shown during the trial.

"This trial will also be a chance to discuss the failures of government agencies, notably in surveilling Merah because he was already known" to police, said Olivier Morice, a lawyer for the family of one of the dead soldiers.

Merah had been questioned by French intelligence services over his trips to Syria, Egypt and Pakistan, although he claimed he was simply a tourist. But in the tribal regions of Pakistan, he managed to establish contact with a group linked to al Qaeda.

For this reason, Abdelkader Merah's lawyer Éric Dupond-Moretti is hoping to call France's former domestic intelligence chief Bernard Squarcini to testify.

Abdelkader – nicknamed "Bin Laden" in his neighbourhood – was also known to intelligence services for his ties to radical Islamists in Toulouse.

Prosecutors claim he shared his brother's ideology, and the two men were repeatedly in contact in the days before the 2012 killings.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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