Judgement day for brother of slain French jihadi Merah
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A French court will rule on Thursday whether Abdelkader Merah, the older brother of a jihadist who shot dead seven people, including three French soldiers and three Jewish children, in 2012 was complicit in the killings. Merah denies the charges.
Abdelkader is accused of knowingly facilitating his brother Mohamed’s attacks on a Jewish school in the southwestern city of Toulouse, in which a rabbi, two of the rabbi's children, aged three and five, and an eight-year-old girl were killed. Prosecutors are asking for a 20-year prison sentence, without possibility of parole.
On Thursday, Abdelkader Merah claimed again that he had nothing to do with his brother’s killings.
The court is also trying Fettah Malki for complicity in the killings. Malki admits selling a machine gun, ammunition and a bulletproof vest to Mohamed Merah.
While prosecutors are demanding a 20-year prison sentence for Malki, he asked for forgiveness in court on Thursday: “I understand the victims’ anger, and I ask for their forgiveness, their sincere forgiveness,” FRANCE 24's Aude Mazoué reported from the courtroom.
Deadliest assault on Jews in France for three decades
The March 2012 assault, which Merah carried out in the name of al Qaeda, was the deadliest on Jews in France in three decades.
In a nine-day killing spree, the 23-year-old also shot dead three soldiers in the garrison town of Montauban before being killed by police after a 32-hour siege at his home.
Investigators believe Abdelkader -- who neighbours nicknamed "Ben Ben" over his admiration for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- had considerable influence over his brother.
The 35-year-old, who lived in the high-rise Toulouse suburb of Les Izards, was known to police for links to ultraconservative Salafist groups.
He admitted to being present when his brother stole a scooter that was used in the attacks, but denied any knowledge of his intentions.
The trial lifted the lid on a dysfunctional family, in which three of five children born to Algerian immigrant parents came under the spell of radical Islamists.
Both Abdelkader and Mohamed spent time in prison for acts of delinquency -- an experience that radicalised the younger Merah and left him thirsting for revenge against France.
In 2011, he travelled to the lawless tribal regions of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan to join the Qaeda-affiliated Jund al-Khalifa.
Returning to France, he was questioned by intelligence services but insisted his trip had been solely for tourism.
‘People never forget the name of that family’
The families of Merah's victims have been pinning their hopes for justice on the trial of Abdelkader, who defended his brother in 2012, declaring: "Every Muslim would like to give his life to kill his enemy."
“If there wasn’t a date, March 19th, to commemorate [the victims], people would forget them. But people never forget the killer, people never forget the name of that family,” Samuel Sandler, whose son and grandchildren were killed by Mohamed Merah, told FRANCE 24.
Meanwhile, Latifa Ibn Ziaten, mother of the first soldier killed, told FRANCE 24: “I am anxious but I have faith in the justice system.”
Prosecutors have presented Abdelkader Merah as the real brains behind the attacks, while Merah's lawyers have urged the jury not to make him a scapegoat for his brother's crimes to satisfy the public thirst for a conviction.
"Don't make him a symbol of terrorism, make him a symbol of our justice system," lawyer Antoine Vey urged during Tuesday's summing up.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)