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Gunman ‘could not have been arrested’ – PM

French police had no grounds to detain a self-proclaimed Islamic extremist before he went on a killing spree, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Friday.

“There was no single element” to allow for the detention of Mohamed Merah, Fillon told French radio.

“We don’t have the right in a country like ours to permanently monitor without judicial authorisation someone who hasn’t committed an offense… We live in a state of law.”

French authorities have faced mounting questions over why Merah, a self-professed Al-Qaeda militant who was known to intelligence services because of his trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was not detained before he killed seven people, including three children.

But Fillon defended the intelligence services, saying that they “did their job perfectly well; they identified Mohamed Merah when he made his trips.”  

He said that intelligence agents “surveilled him long enough to come to the conclusion that there was no element, no indication, that this was a dangerous man who would one day pass from words to acts.”

Merah “was interrogated, surveilled and listened to,” said Fillon, adding that he was a man who “led a normal life.”

“Belonging to a Salafist organisation is not an offense in and of itself. We cannot mix up religious fundamentalism with terrorism, even if we know there are elements that unite them.”

Merah was killed by a police sniper on Thursday as he tried to shoot his way out of his apartment after a 32-hour siege.

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Erdogan calls French separatism bill ‘guillotine’ of democracy

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday denounced a planned French law designed to counter "Islamist separatism" as a "guillotine" of democracy.

Erdogan calls French separatism bill 'guillotine' of democracy
Erdogan has already denounced the proposed measures as "anti-Muslim". Photo: Adem ALTAN/AFP

The draft legislation has been criticised both inside France and abroad for stigmatising Muslims and giving the state new powers to limit speech and religious groups.

“The adoption of this law, which is openly in contradiction of human rights, freedom of religion and European values, will be a guillotine blow inflicted on French democracy,” said Erdogan in a speech in Ankara.

The current version of the planned law would only serve the cause of extremism, putting NGOs under pressure and “forcing young people to choose between their beliefs and their education”, he added.

READ ALSO: What’s in France’s new law to crack down on Islamist extremism?

“We call on the French authorities, and first of all President (Emmanuel) Macron, to act sensibly,” he continued. “We expect a rapid withdrawal of this bill.”

Erdogan also said he was ready to work with France on security issues and integration, but relations between the two leaders have been strained for some time.

France’s government is in the process of passing new legislation to crack down on what it has termed “Islamist separatism”, which would give the state more power to vet and disband religious groups judged to be threats to the nation.

Erdogan has already denounced the proposed measures as “anti-Muslim”.

READ ALSO: Has Macron succeeded in creating an ‘Islam for France’?

Last October, Erdogan questioned Macron’s “mental health”, accusing him of waging a “campaign of hatred” against Islam, after the French president defended the right of cartoonists to caricature the prophet Mohammed.

The two countries are also at odds on a number of other issues, including Libya, Syria and the eastern Mediterranean.

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