The older brother of a French extremist who killed seven people in a series of attacks on a Jewish school and soldiers in 2012 is to go on trial for complicity in the shooting spree, reports The Guardian.
The criminal trial of Abdelkader Merah, 35, starting on Monday, will be the first time a French court considers charges in the attacks that killed three Jewish children, a teacher and three paratroopers in the Toulouse region over a nine-day period.
The 23-year-old gunman, Mohamed Merah, died after a 32-hour televised standoff with France’s police special forces. Abdelkader Merah has been in custody since the days after the Toulouse killings. He has denied helping his brother, who trained with al-Qaida-linked extremists in Pakistan, to prepare for or perpetuate the rampage.
His lawyer, Eric Dupond-Moretti, has said Merah, who faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of “complicity to murders in relation with a terrorist undertaking”, was sent to trial by default because the actual killer was dead.
“There is no evidence in the case file to convict him. That’s what I think, that’s what I’ll say,” Dupond-Moretti told BFM TV in February. The lawyer refused to give interviews as the trial neared.
The trial is being held in a special Paris criminal court and heard by judges. It is expected to last a month with about 50 witnesses and a dozen experts called to the stand. A verdict is expected in early November.
The families of the seven victims, two of whom were Muslim, have awaited the trial for more than five years, during which time there has been a rise in deadly attacks in France, many of them carried out by young people born and radicalised in the country.
“This trial has to shed light, be clear, that the truth come out, that justice be done, and that it become a part of history,” Latifa Ibn Ziaten, the mother of a French paratrooper who was the first victim, told The Associated Press.
Also facing trial will be an acquaintance of the brothers, Fettah Malki. He is accused of providing weapons that Mohamed Merah used and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Malki has maintained he was unaware of his friend’s plot.
During his standoff with an elite police unit, Mohamed Merah spoke with an intelligence negotiator. He claimed to be acting on behalf of the al-Qaida group, but said he acted alone and that neither his older brother nor anyone else knew of his plans.
Footage from the GoPro camera he was wearing when he shot his victims showed he was the sole perpetrator. All the witnesses mentioned a suspect driving a powerful scooter, wearing a black motorcycle jacket and a helmet with a lowered visor.
However, investigative judges said they had gathered enough evidence to try Abdelkader Merah – who had been on intelligence radars since 2006 for proximity to radical cells – as his brother’s accomplice. The judges described him as his brother’s religious mentor on the path of a radical Salafist Islam.
He has denied being the source of his brother’s radicalisation and condemned the killings, but he also told an investigating judge he was “proud of the way he died, as a fighter – that’s what the Qur’an teaches us”.