In a March 23 Le Monde interview, Squarcini had confirmed that Merah had traveled extensively in the Middle East, even though his legal earnings were roughly at the minimum wage: “He spent time with his brother in Cairo after having traveled in the Near East: Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and even Israel. … Then he went to Afghanistan via Tajikistan. He took unusual routes and did not appear on our radars, nor those of French, American, or local foreign intelligence services.”
Squarcini apparently aimed to bolster the official explanation for Merah’s ability to escape police: he was an undetectable “self-radicalized lone wolf.” This story is being shattered by revelations that French intelligence agencies were apparently in close contact with Merah, trying to develop him as an informant inside Islamist networks.
Yesterday Les Inrockuptibles noted Italian reports that Merah worked for France’s main foreign intelligence agency, the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE). It cited the paper Il Foglio: “According to intelligence sources that spoke to Il Foglio, the General Directorate of External Security obtained entry into Israel for him in 2010, presenting him as an informant, passing through a border post with Jordan. … His entry into Israel, covered by the French, sought to prove to the jihadist network that he could cross borders with a European passport.”
Contacted by Les Inrockuptibles, the DGSE refused to confirm or deny Il Foglio’s story: “The DGSE does not discuss its sources or its operations, real or imagined.”
In comments yesterday to La Dépêche du Midi, Yves Bonnet—the former chief of the Territorial Surveillance Directorate (DST), now absorbed into the DCRI—also asked whether Merah was a DCRI asset.
Bonnet said, “What is nonetheless surprising is that he was known to the DCRI, not only because he was an Islamist, but because he had a correspondent at the domestic intelligence agency. Having a correspondent, it is unusual. It’s not unexceptional. Call it a correspondent, call it a handler … I don’t know how far his relations or his collaboration with the service went, but one can ask questions.”
Squarcini denied yesterday that Merah was “an informant of the DCRI or of any French or foreign service.” However, his interview in Le Monde suggests that Merah was precisely that.
By Squarcini’s own admission, Merah repeatedly visited DCRI offices after his trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan—in October and November 2011—to discuss what he had seen. Squarcini called this “an administrative interview without coercion, as we were not in a judicial setting.” Thus Merah was freely giving the DCRI information it wanted to know; that is, he acted as an informant, officially or otherwise.
These revelations make officials’ failure to identify and stop Merah all the more inexplicable. They also raise the issue of whether French intelligence officials were behind the highly irregular delays in the investigation of the shootings.
Though the shootings took place on March 11, March 15, and March 19, Merah only fell under suspicion on March 20—after police compared a short list of Toulouse-area Islamists with a list of IP addresses of computers having browsed an Internet ad posted by the March 11 murder victim.
Journalist Didier Hassoux told Les Inrockuptibles that police obtained the list of 576 IP addresses “when the first killing, of a soldier, was reported”—that is, on March 11. However, according to surveillance technology specialist Jean-Marc Manach, the IP addresses were not sent on to Internet service providers (ISPs) for identification until five days later, on March 16. The ISPs responded the next day.
This five-day delay is very unusual, Manach notes: “Police sources told me that such operations [to obtain individual identities from ISPs] take only a few minutes. Another source, among those who usually respond to such judicial requests, said that they take ‘48 hours maximum.’”
In a further blow to the official account of Merah as a “lone wolf,” a video of the killings made by the gunman arrived to Al Jazeera late on Monday, in an envelope postmarked Wednesday, March 21. However, on that day Mohamed Merah was holed up inside his apartment under siege by police, who had also detained his brother, Abdelkader. It is unclear who mailed the video, which had been heavily edited to disguise voices—raising the possibility that Merah had accomplices in the killings.
French officials reacted ferociously to news of the video. Sarkozy called for any television channel obtaining such images not to broadcast them, while Hollande warned that Al Jazeera could lose its right to broadcast in France if it publicized the video.
Hollande’s stance on the Toulouse video reflects the capitulation of the bourgeois “left” parties in France to law-and-order hysteria after these tragic shootings. No one has demanded an investigation of the intelligence agencies’ role in the killings, though they now reek of a state operation. Nor have the French Communist Party, the New Anti-capitalist Party, or the PS pointed out that the Sarkozy administration, which has benefited electorally from the crime, faces legitimate suspicion that it might be involved.
This reflects the degeneration of the entire political establishment. Having backed imperialist wars in Muslim countries and waves of social cuts in France—as social-democratic officials in Greece pushed through even more devastating cuts demanded by the European Union—the “left” parties themselves now rely on chauvinist invocations of anti-Muslim patriotism. This leaves them prostrate before the security services and the Sarkozy administration’s attempt to turn the Toulouse shootings into the basis for what appears to be a political coup.
The killings took place over nine days, between March 11 and 19, and resulted in the deaths of seven people, including three Jewish schoolchildren.
Hollande was forced to raise token criticisms of various aspects of the police investigations, as high-ranking intelligence officials have raised serious questions and made statements alleging that Merah was a French intelligence asset.
Highly irregular breakdowns in security, reminiscent of 9/11, were allowed by Sarkozy’s trusted appointees in the security and police organizations. Despite Merah’s frequent dealings with the police, he was allowed to continue his alleged rampage, apparently undetected, for 9 days. (See, “Reports indicate Toulouse gunman was French intelligence asset” above). These questions include:
* Why did it take so long to identify and catch the killer?
* Why did police kill Merah in the assault on his flat last Thursday?
* What is the significance of Merah’s long relationship with police intelligence chief Bernard Squarcini?
Hollande admitted that it would have been better to catch Merah alive and obtain information from him.
However, when interviewer Jean-Pierre Elkabbach asked Hollande about his public homage to the police unit that killed Merah, Hollande said he would do the same again: “The police did their job. I salute their work ... the police did their job remarkably.”
When Elkabbach asked if Hollande wanted to comment on the political leadership that had overseen police operations, Hollande responded indignantly: “Do you really think that I’m going to get into that debate today, while the investigations are being made, about the judgment I will make of [Interior Minister Claude] Guéant? … My responsibility is to ensure that France is protected.”
Guéant closely supervised operations, in close contact with Sarkozy, and was therefore directly responsible for the decision to storm Merah’s flat and kill him. Experts have suggested that this was unnecessary and that he could have been captured alive.
Hollande persisted in covering up for Sarkozy and his police henchmen. Asked if he thought that police made errors in their conduct of the case, he said that he would “demand full light be shed … after the elections.” He added, “I’m in no hurry.”
Elkabbach reminded Hollande that he had previously pledged to remove Sarkozy’s appointed police bosses, asking if, on taking power, he would remove the director general of the National Police, Frédéric Péchenard. He replied: “There’s no reason to replace him straight away.”
Of Bernard Squarcini, who faces accusations of illegally monitoring phone records of journalists investigating illicit financing of Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign, he said: “We will look into the functioning of his service.”
Without criticising the vast increase in police powers to spy on the population and criminalise opposition he asserted: “I do not wish to judge those who carried out the operation. ...What counts is to be able to make our surveillance and intelligence services more effective still.”
With his sycophantic praise of Sarkozy’s cops and spies, Hollande is giving a green light to Sarkozy to exploit the killings to hijack the political agenda in the run-up to the elections, which are to be carried out amid an atmosphere of law-and-order hysteria benefiting Sarkozy. Hollande’s decision not to challenge what is effectively a political coup by Sarkozy is all the more remarkable, as the fallout from the Toulouse shootings is undermining Hollande’s position in the elections.
Already this is reflected in the opinion polls: the second round voting intentions in December were 60 percent for Hollande and 40 percent for Sarkozy. Yesterday Le Monde reported that this lead had fallen to 53.5 percent for Hollande to 46.5 percent for Sarkozy, though the paper oddly claimed that the shootings had no impact on the election. A poll yesterday put Sarkozy ahead in the first round with 28 percent, with Hollande trailing at 26.5 percent.
Rather than attempting to challenge Sarkozy’s law-and-order offensive, Hollande tried to emphasize the extent to which the PS has also given extensive powers to police. He reminded his listeners that a law passed in 2001, under the PS-led Plural Left government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, giving the state the right to spy on Internet users, was reportedly a key tool in locating Merah.
Hollande and the “left” of the French political establishment are deeply complicit in the anti-democratic law-and-order policies championed by Sarkozy, as well as his anti-worker social cuts. Sarkozy and the PS both rely on law-and-order rhetoric and the repressive powers of the police to suppress popular opposition to an unpopular political agenda of social cuts and war shared by both the social democratic “left” and the conservative right in Europe. This underlies Hollande’s cowardly capitulation to Sarkozy and his henchmen.