PARIS (AFP) — The brother of the Islamist terrorist who shot dead seven people in southwest France in 2012, including three Jewish schoolchildren, went on trial Monday over his alleged complicity in the first of a wave of attacks by homegrown jihadists.
Mohamed Merah’s March 2012 shooting attack on Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, where he killed a teacher and three pupils, was the deadliest terror attack against Jews in France in three decades.
The 23-year-old Toulouse native also shot dead three soldiers in the nearby garrison town of Montauban before being killed by police in a shootout after a 32-hour siege at his home.
The attacks, which he carried out in the name of Al-Qaeda, were the first in a wave of jihadist assaults in France that resumed in 2015 with the shootings at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a massacre at a Paris concert hall.
In the most recent attacks being investigated by anti-terror police, a man shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) stabbed two women to death at the main train station in Marseille on Sunday.
The Islamic State terror group claimed the attack as the work of one of its “soldiers,” though a source close to the investigation said there was as yet no solid evidence linking the man to the group.
Merah’s brother Abdelkader, 35, is the first person to be tried over the spate of killings.
“The events on which we will deliberate are terrible,” presiding judge Franck Zientara told the court, asking the prosecution, defense and public to ensure that the tone of the trial remains “dignified.”
Reacting to his brother’s actions in 2012 Abdelkader Merah had declared himself “proud,” saying that “every Muslim would like to give his life to kill his enemy.”
He is accused of helping to facilitate his brother’s attacks, in particular by helping him steal the scooter used in three separate shootings.
He is being tried alongside 34-year-old Fettah Malki, accused of giving Mohamed Merah a bulletproof jacket, an Uzi submachine gun and ammunition.
Neither of the accused denies helping Merah obtain materials but claimed they were unaware of his intentions.
Abdelkader faces a possible life sentence while Malki could get 20 years in prison.
‘Blood on his soul’
Merah, who had a history of petty crime, outsmarted French intelligence services.
Questioned earlier by the authorities about trips to Syria, Egypt and a tribal area of Pakistan where he met an Al-Qaeda offshoot, he threw them off the track by playing a tourist.
“This trial will also be the chance to discuss dysfunctions at government agencies, notably in Merah’s surveillance,” said Olivier Morice, a lawyer for the family of one of the dead soldiers.
Abdelkader Merah, who was nicknamed “Bin Laden” in his neighborhood, was known to intelligence services for his ties to radical Islamists in Toulouse.
Prosecutors claim he shared his brother’s ideology, and that the siblings were repeatedly in contact in the days before the killings.
“Abdelkader Merah expressed the sympathy he felt with his brother’s acts. He is not a scapegoat,” said Simon Cohen, a lawyer representing some of the plaintiffs.
“If Mohamed Merah has blood on his hands, Abdelkader has blood on his soul,” he said.