Abdelkader Merah, the brother of Toulouse killer Mohamed Merah, was brought before a judge in Paris on Sunday and charged with “complicity in murder and criminal conspiracy with a view to preparing terrorist acts,” prosecutors in the French capital said Sunday.
He was taken from the court hearing to a high-security prison in Paris, where he will likely be held until his trial. The 29-year-old Islamic radical has denied assisting in the killings but reportedly said he is “proud” of his brother and admitted he was there when Mohamed stole the motorbike he used in killing seven people.
“The investigations being handled by the police have established the existence of serious evidence against Abdelkader Merah corroborating, or making plausible, his participation as an accomplice,” said a statement released by the Paris Prosecutors Office.
French media reports said Abdelkader could face life imprisonment. He is said to have been near the Jewish school where Mohamed Merah killed a rabbi and three young children last Monday — his cellphone and laptop were tracked as being at the scene — and to have helped his brother in earlier attacks that saw three French paratroopers killed.
Abdelkader has also reportedly admitted to having dinner with his brother the night before Monday’s killings at the Ozar Hatorah school.
Meanwhile, French media reports Sunday quoted Mohamed Merah as saying he had planned further attacks on Jewish schools. He was also quoted saying he wished he had got to Ozar Hatorah earlier in the day, when there would have been more children outside to kill.
Abdelkader Merah has been under questioning since the killings last week. His brother Mohamed died in a hail of gunfire Thursday after a standoff with police during which he claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The Merahs’ mother was in police custody for three days before she was released late Friday.
A lawyer for 55-year-old Zoulhika Aziri said her world had been “turned upside down.” ”She is devastated,” Jean-Yves Gougnaud told reporters in the southern city of Toulouse. “At no time could she have imagined that her son was the one who did it.”
Abdelkader was flown to Paris for further questioning Saturday along with his girlfriend, Yamina Mesbah.
Police union spokesman Christophe Crepin told reporters that detectives have already gathered evidence to suggest that Abdelkader Merah had “furnished means (and) worked as an accomplice.”
Abdelkader had already come under police radar. He was questioned several years ago about alleged links to a network sending Toulouse-area youths to Iraq, but no action was brought against him at the time.
His girlfriend’s lawyer, Guy Debuissou, said that Abdelkader “celebrated” the death of his brother, who died firing his guns and jumping out a window.
The lawyer said investigators are trying to determine whether Abdelkader could have led Mohamed toward fundamentalism, and whether “Mohamed was the only one to have been under his sway or whether there are other Mohameds out there.”
The girlfriend denied any involvement in what happened, Debuissou told The Associated Press. The couple married according to Muslim custom in 2006, but did not undergo the civil ceremony required in France for a marriage to be recognized, the lawyer said.
Mohamed Merah had filmed himself carrying out attacks that began March 11 and killed three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three French paratroopers with close-range shots to the head, prosecutors say. Another Jewish student and a paratrooper were wounded, and five police officers were injured.
Key questions include how Merah was able to amass an arsenal of weapons — including an Uzi sub-machinegun — and rent a car, despite having no clear source of income.
French intelligence chief Ange Mancini told broadcaster BFM-TV that Merah told police during the siege that he bought the weapons for about €20,000 ($26,000), using money he acquired through break-ins and holdups.
Mancini said he believed that Merah was telling the truth about that, but suggested that forensic police would be examining the guns for clues as to where Merah got them.
“The weapons, too, will talk,” Mancini said.
Gun violence is far rarer in France than in the U.S., where laws are less restrictive. French civilians are banned from owning automatic weapons or handguns, with few exceptions, and licensing is strictly controlled.
That said, hunting is very popular in France and the country has one of the Western world’s highest levels of private gun ownership, coming in at No. 12 worldwide, according to the University of Sydney’s GunPolicy.org website. The group rates the level of French weapons smuggling as “moderate.”
On Friday, Jewish graves at a cemetery in Nice were discovered to have been vandalized, according to an Israel Radio report. However, it was difficult to establish a definitive connection between the vandalism, which may have taken place prior to the Toulouse shooting, with the attack.