France’s Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, is defending intelligence and security services on Friday, saying they had done a good job and that there had been no grounds to arrest the Toulouse suspect before the killings happened. The German news agency Deutsche-Welle is reporting that the French intelligence and security services had done a perfectly good job, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Friday, defending their work in monitoring and apprehending Toulouse shooting suspect Mohamed Merah, who was killed in a 32-hour standoff on Thursday after attacking a Jewish school in Toulouse, killing three children and a teacher. “There was absolutely no factor that would have warranted arresting Mohamed Merah,” Fillon told broadcaster RTL. “We don’t have the right in a country like ours to put someone who hasn’t yet committed a crime under permanent surveillance, without judicial grounds… We live under the rule of law,” he added.
Fillon also emphasized in the interview that “the fact that he belonged to a Salafist organization was not an offense in itself and that it was wrong to “mix religious fundamentalism with terrorism.” The head of France’s DCRI domestic intelligence agency, Bernard Squarcini, told daily Le Monde that there was little more that security services could have done to predict or prevent atrocities by Merah. During the standoff, Merah claimed to have links to al Qaeda, but Squarcini said that “there was no evidence of any network,” and that he had “radicalized himself” in prison. He insisted that Merah did not fit into any “typology” of extremists and that he was irrational and violent. He also said Merah’s attack on the Jewish school had been a spur-of-the-moment decision after the gunman failed to find a soldier he planned to kill, according to his conversation with police negotiators during the siege of his home.
Meanwhile, the French government is determined to pass tough anti-terrorism measures, with Fillon as well as French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggesting that measures could be signed into law before the presidential elections, if there was cross-party agreement. But the communications director of presidential hopeful Francois Hollande said on Friday that “no law could be passed before the presidential elections.” Sarkozy said that if French voters “put their trust in me” it would be one of his first priorities.
New York, New York this morning.