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Gunman's 'proud' brother quizzed over France shootings

The brother of the gunman who murdered seven people was whisked to Paris yesterday for further questioning as a police source disclosed he had said he was "proud" of his dead brother's killing spree.

President Nicolas Sarkozy summoned ministers and police chiefs to a meeting to discuss the consequences of Mohamed Merah's massacre, which has raised troubling national security questions four weeks ahead of a presidential election.

Mr Sarkozy is facing an uphill re-election battle and his chief intelligence adviser sought to head off media questions about the handling of the affair in Toulouse.

Abdelkader Merah, the elder brother of the 23-year-old gunman who died in a hail of police gunfire last Thursday, was taken by car from police barracks in Toulouse for transfer to the capital, along with his wife, a judicial source said.

Both were arrested in the early hours of Wednesday as negotiators sought their help in trying to persuade Merah to turn himself in. Merah's mother, arrested at the same time, was released on Friday evening, the public prosecutor's office said.

Her lawyer, Jean-Yves Gougnaud, said she told him "she saw nothing coming" and felt guilty for what happened.

Merah was killed by a sniper after a gun battle with police that ended a 30-hour siege at his Toulouse apartment, during which he admitted killing three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three soldiers in three separate attacks.

Abdelkader Merah and his wife, whose name was not given, were transferred to a detention centre at the headquarters of the DCRI domestic intelligence agency in Paris, where a judge was likely to decide in a matter of hours whether there were grounds for legal proceedings over possible links to the attacks.

Police have found explosives in a car Abdelkader Merah owned, according to the public prosecutor leading the case. He was already known to security services for having helped smuggle jihadist militants into Iraq in 2007.

A police source said yesterday that at a closed hearing in Toulouse he had declared himself "proud" of his brother's killings and had admitted helping Mohamed steal the scooter used in all seven murders. He had denied any knowledge of his brother's murderous plans, however.

Merah appeared to have purchased guns and other weapons with €20,000 he had seemingly amassed from robberies or hold-ups.

Meanwhile, dozens of French Muslims are training with the Taliban in north-western Pakistan, raising fears of future attacks following the shootings by Merah, who allegedly spent time in the region, Pakistani intelligence officials said last night.

Authorities are currently investigating whether Merah was among the training group, the officials said.

The 23-year-old former car-body worker travelled twice to Afghanistan in 2010 and to Pakistan in 2011, and before he was killed he claimed that he had trained with al Qaeda in the militant stronghold of Waziristan in Pakistan.

About 85 French men have been training with the Pakistani Taliban in the North Waziristan tribal area for the past three years, according to the intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Most of the men have dual nationality with France and North African countries.

The men operate under the name Jihad-e-Islami, and are being trained to use explosives and other weapons at camps near the town of Miran Shah and in the Datta Khel area, the officials said.

They are led by a French commander who goes by the name Abu Tarek.

Five of the men returned to France in January 2011 to find new recruits, according to the officials. It's unclear whether Merah was among that group.

Merah was questioned by French intelligence officers last November after his second trip to Afghanistan. He was co-operative and provided a USB key with tourist-like photos of his trip.

Mr Sarkozy has promised a crackdown on French citizens found to have trained in terror camps abroad.

"Anyone who goes abroad to follow ideological courses that lead to terrorism will be criminally punished. The response will be prison," he said yesterday.

Sunday Independent