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French serial killer had 20 bullet wounds after gunfight

A post-mortem on the Islamist serial killer who died in a siege in Toulouse revealed he suffered some 20 bullet wounds.

Police officials last night said the body of Mohamed Merah (23) was riddled with bullets, but only two were fatal.

He was killed by a bullet wound to the left temple and another to the abdomen. They said the other injuries were mainly to his arms and legs.

Merah, who claimed links with al-Qa'ida, is believed to have killed seven people in three attacks in and around Toulouse.

He died on Thursday in a gunfight after a 32-hour stand-off with police who said they fired in self-defence.

It emerged yesterday that Merah, an unemployed panel beater who was claiming state benefits worth €475 a month, had amassed an arms stash worth at least €10,000.

His arsenal included at least three Colt .45 pistols, a 9mm Sten submachine gun, a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a pump-action shotgun, an Uzi machine pistol, as well as a Colt .357 Python revolver.

Revelations that the self-styled al-Qa'ida terrorist was shot 20 times by police "in self defence" will raise further questions about the handling of the operation, which was yesterday described as a tactical disaster.

As thousands gathered in Toulouse, in the south-west of France, to mourn Merah's seven victims, including three children, French government and intelligence officials took to the airwaves to counter separate claims of serious intelligence failures.

France's elite RAID police unit was ordered to capture the Frenchman of Algerian descent alive after his 10-day murder rampage. Instead, he died in a gun battle while trying to shoot his way out of his flat in a quiet Toulouse district.

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Yesterday, Christian Prouteau, who founded the GIGN, a rival elite unit answerable to the French gendarmerie, asked: "How come the police's best unit did not manage to arrest a man all alone? They should have flushed him out with a high-dosage tear gas. He wouldn't have lasted five minutes. Instead of which, they throw volleys of grenades.

"In fact, I think this operation was conducted with no precise tactical plan."

Amaury de Hauteclocque, chief of RAID police, responded angrily, saying that the operation "did my service proud".

President Nicolas Sarkozy had personally ruled against a lightning raid, his interior minister confirmed.

"The (final) assault could have been given much earlier... but the president wanted to give dialogue a chance," Claude Gueant told 'Le Monde' newspaper. "He thought we mustn't turn Merah into a martyr, and the victims' families wanted to have a trial."

The Synergie police union denounced Mr Prouteau's comments as "scandalous" and politically motivated, as he had been close to the Socialists.

Islamist

Meanwhile, officials yesterday denied that they had failed to join intelligence dots given that Merah had visited an Islamist hotbed on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and was on a US no-fly list.

But Francois Fillon, the French prime minister, insisted that police had no "single piece of evidence" to detain the suspect before the shootings, adding that police had traced the killer in "record time in modern French history", analysing seven million phone calls.

In a remembrance ceremony for the victims in Toulouse, a banner read: "Live together, plurality, dignity," in French, Arabic, Hebrew and Occitan, the regional language.

But, in a highly provocative statement, Merah's older brother, Abdelkader (29) told police: "I am very proud of my brother. I regret nothing for him and I approve of what he did."

Abdelkader Merah is being held with his girlfriend and mother on terror-related offences. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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