Mohammed Merah, the suspect in a string of violent attacks culminating with the March 19 shooting deaths of three children and a rabbi at the Ozar Hatorah School in Toulouse, France, committed suicide by cop March 22 after a prolonged standoff at his Toulouse apartment. Authorities believed Merah also to have shot and killed a paratrooper March 11 in Toulouse and two other paratroopers March 15 in Montauban.
While Merah's death ended his attacks, it also began the inevitable inquiry process as French officials consider how the attacks could have been prevented. The commissions or committees appointed to investigate such attacks normally take months to complete their inquiries, so the findings of the panel looking into the Merah case will not be released in time to have any impact on the French presidential election set to begin April 22. However, such findings are routinely used for political purposes and as ammunition for bureaucratic infighting.
Like the suspects in many recent terrorist attacks in other countries, Merah had previously come to the attention of French authorities. He reportedly traveled at least twice to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region and was interviewed by authorities upon his return to France in November 2011. Some media reports have even suggested that Merah had worked as an informant for French authorities. Merah's older brother, Abdulkader Merah, also reportedly was investigated in 2007 for helping French Muslim men travel to Iraq to fight. These facets of the case will certainly be examined in detail.
While it will be many months before the official reports are published, already we can draw several conclusions from this case. This is because the same essential problems occur whenever a Western government attempts to pre-empt vague, potential threats posed by an amorphous enemy. Indeed, these issues surfaced several times following attacks by Islamist militants in the United States, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. They also were seen in the July 2011 attacks in Norway.
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