Body of French gunman may be sent to Algeria for burial

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 28, 2012 3:10 PM
Body of French gunman may be sent to Algeria for burial

ALGIERS/PARIS (Reuters) - The father of an al Qaeda-inspired gunman who killed seven people in a shooting rampage in southwest France said on Wednesday he wanted his son buried in Algeria, but the Algerian authorities had yet to agree to receive the body.

"I believe the paperwork will take some time before we will be able to transfer the body of my son here, to Algeria," Mohamed Benalel Merah told Reuters by telephone.

"The consulate in Toulouse has to send a file to the city hall in (the Algerian city of) Medea, which has to send it back. This is why the procedure will take some time, but I do not know exactly how much time, a week or two maybe," he said.

"But my son will be buried in Algeria."

Mohamed Merah killed three Jewish children, a rabbi and three soldiers in the French city of Toulouse last week.

The 23-year-old self-styled Islamist radical, who admitted to the killings, was shot on March 22 during a gun battle with police who laid siege to his apartment for more than 30 hours.

Abdallah Zekri, an official at one of the biggest mosques in Paris, said on Wednesday his body was at a hospital in Toulouse while Algerian authorities decided whether they were willing to receive it.

The gunman's half-brother Rachid told Reuters the body could arrive in Algeria as early as Thursday but no specific date or time for its arrival had been set.

"We are not 100 percent sure that it will be here tomorrow. Anyway, I will be at the airport with all the family waiting for Mohamed's body," he told Reuters in an interview at his village of Ouled Salma, 40 km west of the capital Algiers.

Merah's father has lashed out at French authorities for killing his son and demanded his body. The elder Merah, who lives in Algeria, had earlier said he wanted to sue France.

"France is a powerful country with huge resources," he told France 24 television. "They could have taken him while he slept. They could have used a sleep-inducing gas and taken him like a baby. Why were they so hasty? Why did they kill him?"

"They could have arrested him and had him face justice," he added.

French authorities are checking to see whether Mohamed Merah planned the attacks alone or with others.

Abdelkader, another one of his brothers, was arrested with a woman partner in France after the shooting spree. The French public prosecutor has said he was already known to security services for helping smuggle jihadist militants into Iraq in 2007.

Rachid Merah said his brother Mohamed last visited him in April 2010, and that he was seeking to learn more about Islam and to find a wife.

"He was disappointed because he did not want to join a zaouia. He was a man of action, a Salafi," the 35-year-old said.

Zaouias are traditional orders of mystical Sufi Islam that are anathema to conservative Salafi Islamists, followers of a puritanical interpretation of Islamism.

"I spent five days with him. He had a strange look, with hair painted yellow," he said. "He was very pious, fasting several days a week, a genuine Muslim."

(Reporting by Chine Labbe in Paris and Lamine Chikhi in Algiers; Writing by Alexandria Sage and Lin Noueihed; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Karolina Tagaris)