Hollande promises truth over gunman Merah

French President François Hollande has promised to unearth the truth about Toulouse terrorist Mohamed Merah as France remembered the gunman's seven victims on the first anniversary of his shooting spree in Toulouse and Montauban.

Hollande promises truth over gunman Merah
French President François Hollande speaks with Latifa Ibn Ziaten, mother of the first victim of extremist French gunman Mohamed Merah. Photo: Bob Edme/AFP

Merah, a self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda sympathiser, shot dead a rabbi, three Jewish schoolchildren and three French paratroopers before being killed in a police siege in the city on March 22nd, last year.

The 23-year-old French citizen with Algerian roots, who in 2011 received military training in Pakistan, wanted to avenge Palestinian children and punish France for sending troops to Afghanistan.

Questions have been asked about the failure of France's intelligence services to prevent Merah carrying out his deadly crimes, despite the fact he was known to them and they had monitored him at various stages.

At a memorial service in Toulouse on Sunday, Hollande vowed that the victims' families will receive the truth.

"Could this tragedy have been avoided? Did Merah act alone or was he a member of a larger network?" asked Hollande. "The families and the whole of France are owed these answers. I will guarantee they get them."

"The state must do everything to help shed light on these questions and we must know the shortcomings of the services involved."

French police doubt that Merah could have acted alone, but the only person charged with helping him so far is his brother Abdelkader who has denied the charges.

Last month, police arrested two men in connection with Merah's killing spree, and in early December a 38-year-old man and his girlfriend were arrested on suspicion of links to the attacks but both were later released without charge.

Hollande said he remains committed to the fight against "terrorism".

"The fight against terrorism is global… and allows for no easing off, no weakness and no negligence," Hollande told a crowd of around 1,500 people that had gathered for the service.

"Democracy is always more powerful than fanaticism," Hollande said.

The president also vowed to crackdown on anti-Semitism and insisted that the government will force social network sites like Twitter and Facebook to hand over the names of those who publish racist or anti-Semitic material.

In January, a French court ordered Twitter to disclose data in order to identify the perpetrators of anti-Semitic tweets. It followed a lawsuit taken by France's Union of Jewish Students . The union has complained however that since then, the law has not been enforced.

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US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.