British media has been covering the standoff all day, replete with live updates at the Telegraph and Guardian. Follow those links for developments tonight; the latest as I write this is that French police have blown open a door in his apartment building after negotiating with him since 3 a.m. local time this morning. For background on the whole story, though, read CBS’s account. The total death toll: Three Jewish children, a rabbi, and three French paratroopers, at least one of whom was Muslim. And he allegedly had plans to go out and kill another soldier before the cops surrounded him.
The suspect has told police he belonged to al Qaeda and wanted to take revenge for Palestinian children killed in the Middle East, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said, adding the man was also angry about French military intervention abroad…
An Interior Ministry official told The Associated Press that Merah has been under surveillance for years for having “fundamentalist” views. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Merah is a self-proclaimed member of the Forsan al-Izza or “Knights of Glory” group, which the French government banned in January following suspicion that it was recruiting Jihadists to Afghanistan…
Gueant told reporters Merah is “less explicit” about why he killed French paratroopers. The paratroopers were of Muslim and French Caribbean origin, but the interior minister said the suspect told them the ethnic origin has nothing to do with his actions.
He traveled to Afghanistan two years ago and, according to a French prosecutor, trained in Waziristan, but apparently earlier reports about him having been jailed there as a jihadi fighter and then escaped in a prison break are incorrect. He’s not the only local who’s trained for jihad abroad either, per French counterterror officials. They’ve had their eye on a number of men from Toulouse and estimate that there are 30 or more across Europe who went to Afghanistan or Iraq and then came home. In fact, French intelligence already knew who the suspect, Mohammed Merah, was. How he managed to kill seven people, including three soldiers, over several days without anyone moving in on him is the big question mark right now.
Two interesting wrinkles in this case. One: Some major newspapers, including the NYT and the Guardian, were quick to suggest that the shooter must be part of the European far right. That’s not implausible after the Anders Breivik massacre, and anti-semitic attitudes in France are on the rise, but to leap to that conclusion after fully 10 years of western counterterror officials warning of homegrown jihadists is simply insane. (Ace speculates that the media thought it unlikely that a jihadist would target Muslim members of the French army and notes, correctly, that that assumption is doubly insane.) Which brings us to the other wrinkle: Does Merah’s M.O. signal a deadly tactical shift by AQ and affiliated terrorists?
In the intelligence world, they are known as the Nike terrorists, whose motto when it comes to committing acts of terrorism is simply: “Just do it.”…
Rather than trying to carry out spectacular attacks on the scale of September 11, the Nike terrorists are encouraged to use any means at their disposal to cause the maximum number of casualties. The architect of this new way of killing was Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical cleric who masterminded al-Qaeda’s operations from Yemen until killed by a US drone strike last September.
Awlaki, whose perfect command of English made him a highly effective al-Qaeda propagandist, regularly posted sermons on the internet urging his followers to carry out rudimentary attacks against Western “infidels” using any means at their disposal.
Read this analysis at the JPost making the same point and noting that Inspire, the Al Qaeda “magazine,” explicitly urged followers to attack locally and on their own. If the reports about him being trained in Waziristan are true, then he’s not a “lone wolf,” strictly speaking. But he was effective enough here (as was Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood) that more aspiring jihadis are bound to start eschewing high explosives for the low-tech yet highly effective machine-gun-in-the-mall approach. Bad days ahead.
Update: Just as I hit publish, the Telegraph updates to say that the earlier explosion was designed to intimidate Merah into surrendering. But he’s not intimidated and refuses to surrender. So … they’re going to start negotiating with him again. Ah, France.