To those who proclaim themselves jihadis, Mohamed Merah is a hero and a martyr. He became a hero last month when he attacked a Jewish school in Toulouse, murdering Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his two young sons, Gabriel and Arieh, and a seven-year-old girl, Myriam Monsonego, whom he pulled by the hair and then shot in the head. He became a martyr when, after a 33-hour standoff, he was killed by French commandos.
This part of the story has received too little attention: Merah, the 23-year-old son of Algerian immigrants, began his killing spree by gunning down French paratrooper Sgt. Imad Ibn Ziaten and, four days later, two more uniformed paratroopers, Cpl. Abel Chennouf and Pte. Mohamed Legouad. All three were Muslims.
The clear message Merah was sending his co-religionists in France and other Western nations: “If you are good citizens of the infidel lands in which you have settled, if you are not waging war against the unbelievers or supporting those who do, you are traitors. And one of these days, Allah willing, you too will get the justice you deserve.” In France, graffiti in support of Merah characterizes those he slaughtered as “Zionists” and “false Muslims.”
Merah’s connections to well-known terrorist organizations are sketchy – perhaps by design. A strategy paper produced by al Qaeda’s senior leadership was recently uncovered by German authorities. As summarized by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Daniel Trombly, researchers at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, it “outlines the group’s war-of-attrition strategy: a combination of both complex, multi-member operations and also smaller attacks, perhaps executed by so-called ‘lone wolves.’”
Gartenstein-Ross and Trombly note also (in a study soon to be published) that less than a year ago, al Sahab, al Qaeda’s media production arm, “released a one-hundred-minute video urging Muslims to undertake individual jihad” against infidels.
Extremist websites call upon Muslims to take up the sword against Jews, Christians and those Muslims who do not tow the jihadi line. Such appeals are made as well in mosques – some, not all. Think, for example, of Anwar al Awlaki: Born in the USA, he ran the Dar al Hijrah mosque in Virginia where he posed as a moderate. Eventually, he took off for Yemen where he became an al Qaeda leader with a global on-line presence. (His career was cut short by a U.S. drone strike in September 2011.)