Gaps in French prosecution's case against brother of Toulouse gunman
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The trial of Abdelkader Merah – who stands accused of aiding and abetting his brother Mohamed in the March 2012 shootings that took place in southwestern France – has revealed flaws and gaps in the prosecution’s case.
On March 21, 2012, Mohamed Merah was killed in an exchange of fire with police after he shot and killed three soldiers in Toulouse and Montauban, one teacher and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse over the previous week.
As the trial of his brother Abdelkader for complicity in the killings opened on Monday in Paris, the prosecution’s case appeared weakened by the presence of anonymous witnesses and a series of flaws.
The prosecution’s task has been made more difficult by a lack of concrete proof.
The investigation has not managed to prove that Abdelkader himself logged into Leboncoin – a French classified advertisement website – to see the announcement posted by Imad Ibn-Ziaten, the first victim of the shootings, with whom Mohamed Merah had set up a meeting, supposedly to buy his scooter.
Two connections were recorded from the broadband line belonging to the Merah brothers' mother, but there is no evidence that Abdelkader himself looked at the announcement on March 4, 2012.
“Absence of proof is not a problem when there is a staggering number of clues, all pointing towards Abdelkader Merah being guilty”, Jean Tamalet, the lawyer representing Abel Chennouf, one of the soldiers killed in Montauban, told FRANCE 24.'
'You're mocking us all'
Another problem for the prosecution is that, of the 55 witnesses set to appear in front of the judge, 10 chose to appear anonymously, hidden behind a screen and with their voices modified, for security reasons.
Amongst the ones who have appeared in court so far is a policeman, identified as “35”, who refutes the lone wolf thesis and thus backs the theory that Abdelkader Merah was complicit in the killings.
But his testimony was called into doubt by Eric Dupond-Moretti, the defendant’s lawyer, who pointed out, during the hearing, that the policeman had granted about sixty interviews in the press seven months before.
“It’s [ridiculous], what you just said ... You're mocking us all,” the lawyer told “35”. The judge closed the session and said that if he had been informed of the [content] of the interview, he would have made a different decision about awarding the witness anonymity.
“This episode has taken on a great deal of importance because it is symptomatic of a lot of confusion – but that, in itself, is not a central issue,” said the lawyer Jean Tamalet, seeking to rehabilitate policeman number 35’s testimony. “What interests me is to see what these people have to say, not seeing their faces.”
Security forces 'incapable of self-criticism'
Last but not least, senior officials in France’s Ministry of the Interior at the time of the killings continue to support the lone wolf theory in order to avoid pointing out any possible errors in the work of the intelligence services.
“Not supporting this thesis is accepting the unacceptable: it means admitting that they failed to identify a terror network,” Jean Tamalet told FRANCE 24. “The shocking thing is that five years later, the security forces of the time are still incapable of criticising their own work.”
Among the flaws in this case, Albert Chennouf-Meyer, the father of Abel Chennouf, one of the soldiers killed in the 2012 attacks, noted the absence of other figures in the courtroom.
“We're missing Sarkozy, Hollande, Squarcini [then head of the DGSI, France’s domestic intelligence agency] and all those who were allowed to leave ... Merah’s father [who was deported from France], Soued Merah, Sabri Essid ... [Merah’s sister and half-brother, who subsequently went to Syria]”, Chennouf-Meyer told French tabloid “Le Parisien” on Monday.
Like other victims' family members, Chennouf-Meyer said he did not expect “anything” from the 24-day trial. “This trial is not ours,” he said. “It is a masquerade to make people feel better.”
However, 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 said: "Every Muslim would like to give his life to kill his enemy."
According to prosecution, the pair were repeatedly in contact in the days before the shootings.
This article was adapated from the original in French