Mohamed Merah

Mohamed Merah was the perpetrator of the March 2012 gun attacks in Toulouse and Montauban, France. The three gun attacks—which took place over the course of nine days—left a total of seven people dead, including three French soldiers and three children. Merah claimed to be affiliated with al-Qaeda and said that he carried out the attacks as revenge both for France’s foreign interventions and for the treatment of Palestinian children.Laura Smith-Spark, “Who was French gunman Mohammed Merah?” CNN, March 23, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/21/world/europe/france-shooting-suspect-profile/index.html. Merah was killed by police on March 22, 2012, as he attempted to escape his apartment after a 32-hour siege.“Toulouse siege: Mohamed Merah shot in head,” Telegraph (London), March 22, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9160670/Toulouse-siege-Mohamed-Merah-shot-in-head.html.

Merah was born in Toulouse, France, to family of Algerian descent.Harriet Alexander and Fiona Govan, “Toulouse shootings: the making of a French jihadi killer with a double life,” Telegraph (London), March 24, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9165091/Toulouse-shootings-the-making-of-a-French-jihadi-killer-with-a-double-life.html. Merah’s parents divorced when he was five years old and he was subsequently raised by his mother.Harriet Alexander and Fiona Govan, “Toulouse shootings: the making of a French jihadi killer with a double life,” Telegraph (London), March 24, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9165091/Toulouse-shootings-the-making-of-a-French-jihadi-killer-with-a-double-life.html. One of Merah’s brothers, Abdelghani Merah, would later claim that their parents had been abusive and neglectful.John Litchfield, “How my hate-filled family spawned Merah the monster,” Independent (London), November 12, 2012, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/how-my-hate-filled-family-spawned-merah-the-monster-8307341.html. Merah was reportedly expelled multiple times from school, eventually dropping out and working for some time as a car mechanic. He was arrested a total of 18 times for minor offenses such as vandalism and theft, and was imprisoned in December 2007 for 18 months for stealing a handbag. He reportedly received psychiatric treatment after trying to commit suicide while in prison in December 2008.Harriet Alexander and Fiona Govan, “Toulouse shootings: the making of a French jihadi killer with a double life,” Telegraph (London), March 24, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9165091/Toulouse-shootings-the-making-of-a-French-jihadi-killer-with-a-double-life.html. After his release from prison, Merah applied to join the French army, but was rejected due to his criminal record. Two years later, he applied to join the French Foreign Legion, but he either withdrew or was rejected again.“Merah: From petty criminal to killer,” Al Jazeera, March 22, 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/03/201232211333224295.html;
Dan Bilefsky, “Toulouse Killer’s Path to Radicalism a Bitter Puzzle,” New York Times, March 29, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/30/world/europe/toulouse-killers-path-a-bitter-puzzle.html.

Authorities have not been able to determine exactly when Merah was first drawn to extremist movements. Merah’s brother Abdelghani would later claim that they had been raised in an “atmosphere of racism and hatred” and that their brother Abdelkader and sister Souad encouraged Merah to adopt anti-Semitic and extremist beliefs.John Litchfield, “How my hate-filled family spawned Merah the monster,” Independent (London), November 12, 2012, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/how-my-hate-filled-family-spawned-merah-the-monster-8307341.html. His mother married Sabri Essid, who was convicted in 2009 for running an al-Qaeda safe house in Syria and recruiting fighters for the group.Dan Bilefsky, “Toulouse Killer’s Path to Radicalism a Bitter Puzzle,” New York Times, March 29, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/30/world/europe/toulouse-killers-path-a-bitter-puzzle.html;
Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, “How did Mohammed Merah become a jihadist?” CNN, March 26, 2012, http://edition.cnn.com/2012/03/26/world/europe/france-shooting-suspect/.
Merah himself would later claim that he became radicalized while in prison.Richard Galpin, “Toulouse shootings: Merah’s path to murder,” BBC News, March 22, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17481537. CNN also reports that at some point, Merah developed connections to Forsane Alizza, an extremist group in France that supported al-Qaeda.Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, “How did Mohammed Merah become a jihadist?” CNN, March 26, 2012, http://edition.cnn.com/2012/03/26/world/europe/france-shooting-suspect/. In 2010, Merah reportedly forced a boy to watch violent videos, and physically attacked the boy’s sister while claiming allegiance to al-Qaeda, but no prosecution ensued.“Obituary: Tolouse gunman Mohamed Merah,” BBC News, March 22, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17456541;
“Toulouse siege: Mohamed Merah shot in head,” Telegraph (London), March 22, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9160670/Toulouse-siege-Mohamed-Merah-shot-in-head.html.
According to acquaintances, Merah rarely spoke about religion, although he was an observant Muslim.“Merah: From petty criminal to killer,” Al Jazeera, March 22, 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/03/201232211333224295.html.

In 2010 and 2011, Merah traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan, respectively. According to former French interior minister Claude Gueant, these trips further solidified his radicalization.“Merah: From petty criminal to killer,” Al Jazeera, March 22, 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/03/201232211333224295.html. Merah traveled to Afghanistan in 2010, first passing through Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Israel. He was reportedly detained for a brief time in Israel for possessing a knife, and for a second time in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for an undisclosed reason. After his detainment by Afghan police in November, he was turned over to U.S. custody, and later returned to France.Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, “How did Mohammed Merah become a jihadist?” CNN, March 26, 2012, http://edition.cnn.com/2012/03/26/world/europe/france-shooting-suspect/;
“Obituary: Tolouse gunman Mohamed Merah,” BBC News, March 22, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17456541.
In 2011, Merah again traveled to the region on a two-month trip to Pakistan.Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, “How did Mohammed Merah become a jihadist?” CNN, March 26, 2012, http://edition.cnn.com/2012/03/26/world/europe/france-shooting-suspect/. Merah’s two trips to the region raised the suspicions of French intelligence officials, but upon his return in November 2011, he reportedly showed them a photograph reel intending to prove that he had simply been a tourist.“Merah: From petty criminal to killer,” Al Jazeera, March 22, 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/03/201232211333224295.html;
“Obituary: Tolouse gunman Mohamed Merah,” BBC News, March 22, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17456541.
Merah later claimed that he had been trained by an al-Qaeda operative while in Pakistan, and a French newspaper reported that he trained with Taliban fighters there who sent him to fight NATO forces in Afghanistan.Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, “How did Mohammed Merah become a jihadist?” CNN, March 26, 2012, http://edition.cnn.com/2012/03/26/world/europe/france-shooting-suspect/;
“Merah: From petty criminal to killer,” Al Jazeera, March 22, 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/03/201232211333224295.html.
Merah would also later claim that “brothers in Pakistan” provided him with the necessary funds to purchase weapons and carry out his attacks. However, officials maintain that he more likely obtained these funds through a series of jobs and criminal activities.Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, “How did Mohammed Merah become a jihadist?” CNN, March 26, 2012, http://edition.cnn.com/2012/03/26/world/europe/france-shooting-suspect/.

In March of 2012, Merah carried out a series of three gun attacks in the cities of Toulouse and Montauban, France, though he was not identified until after the third attack.“Shootings in Toulouse and Montauban: What we know,” BBC News, March 22, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17428860. Merah reportedly arrived on the scene of each shooting on a Yamaha motorcycle that police later determined was stolen in May of 2011, although he had it repainted from black to white before the third attack in an attempt to thwart identification.“Shootings in Toulouse and Montauban: What we know,” BBC News, March 22, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17428860;
John Irish, “French ‘gunman’ trapped by email, bike,” Reuters, March 22, 2012, http://uk.reuters.com/article/us-france-shootings-investigation/french-gunman-trapped-by-email-bike-idUKBRE82L0H620120322.
He also used the same Colt 45 pistol in all three attacks.“Shootings in Toulouse and Montauban: What we know,” BBC News, March 22, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17428860. Merah filmed each attack with a GoPro camera strapped to his body, and claimed to have posted the footage online.Henry Samuel, “Toulouse siege: Mohamed Merah claimed he posted footage of all the attacks online,” Telegraph (London), March 22, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9161157/Toulouse-siege-Mohamed-Merah-claimed-he-posted-footage-of-all-the-attacks-online.html. Authorities were able to obtain and view the footage, and a transcript was released in January 2013.“Merah victim Imad Ibn Ziaten ‘refused to lie down,’” BBC News, January 18, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-21088665;
Henry Samuel, “Toulouse siege: Mohamed Merah claimed he posted footage of all the attacks online,” Telegraph (London), March 22, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9161157/Toulouse-siege-Mohamed-Merah-claimed-he-posted-footage-of-all-the-attacks-online.html.

On March 11, 2012, Merah shot dead Imad Ibn-Ziaten, a staff sergeant in the 1st Airborne Transportation Regiment of the French Army, behind a school in Toulouse around 4:00 P.M. local time. Merah had arranged a meeting with Ibn-Ziaten via phone call after the sergeant had posted an advertisement online to sell a motorcycle, in which he had explicitly identified himself as a soldier.“Shootings in Toulouse and Montauban: What we know,” BBC News, March 22, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17428860. Merah reportedly asked Ibn-Ziaten, “Are you a soldier?” and after killing him, stated, “That is Islam, my brother: you kill my brothers, I kill you.”“Merah victim Imad Ibn Ziaten ‘refused to lie down,’” BBC News, January 18, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-21088665.

On March 15, Merah shot dead two paratroopers of the French Army’s 17th Airbone Combat Engineering Regiment, Corporal Abel Chennouf and Private Mohamed Legoud, and seriously injured a third, Corporal Loic Liber, outside of a shopping center in Montauban around 2:00 P.M. local time. The paratroopers had been waiting to withdraw money from a cash machine. Witnesses reported that Merah acted calmly, moved aside an elderly woman who was also in line before firing, and fired three shots into one of the wounded victims trying to get away.“Shootings in Toulouse and Montauban: What we know,” BBC News, March 22, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17428860. Merah yelled “Allah Akhbar!” as he fled the scene on a motorcycle.Harriet Alexander and Fiona Govan, “Toulouse shootings: the making of a French jihadi killer with a double life,” Telegraph (London), March 24, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9165091/Toulouse-shootings-the-making-of-a-French-jihadi-killer-with-a-double-life.html. After the shooting, authorities launched a manhunt for the attacker, whose identity they had not yet determined.“Toulouse shootings and siege: timeline,” Telegraph (London), March 22, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9160016/Toulouse-shootings-and-siege-timeline.html.

On March 19, Merah indiscriminately opened fire outside the Ozar Hatorah Jewish School in Toulouse, shortly after 8:00 a.m. local time, killing four people.“Shootings in Toulouse and Montauban: What we know,” BBC News, March 22, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17428860;
Fiona Govan, “Toulouse shooting: little girl cornered in school and shot in head,” Telegraph (London), March 19, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9154350/Toulouse-shooting-little-girl-cornered-in-school-and-shot-in-head.html.
He first parked his motorcycle and shot from a distance, killing a rabbi named Jonathan Sandler and Sandler’s two sons, who were three and six years old, then entered the schoolyard to pursue and shoot a seven-year old girl, Miriam, who was the daughter of the school principal.Fiona Govan, “Toulouse shooting: little girl cornered in school and shot in head,” Telegraph (London), March 19, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9154350/Toulouse-shooting-little-girl-cornered-in-school-and-shot-in-head.html. He shot another boy, aged 17, who tried to shield Miriam and suffered critical injuries. Merah then reportedly cornered Miriam, grabbed her by the hair and shooting her in the head.Hillary Zaken, “French teen who tried to save Toulouse victim still hospitalized,” Times of Israel, March 22, 2012, http://www.timesofisrael.com/french-teenager-who-tried-to-save-toulouse-victim-still-hospitalized/;
Fiona Govan, “Toulouse shooting: little girl cornered in school and shot in head,” Telegraph (London), March 19, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9154350/Toulouse-shooting-little-girl-cornered-in-school-and-shot-in-head.html.

Authorities did not identify Merah until after the three attacks, and Merah had taken care not to leave any fingerprints or DNA on the magazine and shell casings from his weapon. Authorities were first able to first identify Merah as a suspect by the computer IP address of his response to the advertisement posted by Ibn-Ziaten. After his second attack, Merah visited a motorcycle dealership and asked whether it would be possible to remove the GPS tracking device from the bike and mentioned that he had recently repainted it white. Merah’s name was in the dealership’s customer files, and authorities identified him after the third attack.John Irish, “French ‘gunman’ trapped by email, bike,” Reuters, March 22, 2012, http://uk.reuters.com/article/us-france-shootings-investigation/french-gunman-trapped-by-email-bike-idUKBRE82L0H620120322.

On March 21, police surrounded Merah’s apartment after he was identified as the prime suspect.“Toulouse shootings and siege: timeline,” Telegraph (London), March 22, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9160016/Toulouse-shootings-and-siege-timeline.html. Reportedly armed with multiple weapons, Merah resisted capture for more than 32 hours, opening fire whenever police would approach, wounding three officers.“Obituary: Tolouse gunman Mohamed Merah,” BBC News, March 22, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17456541; “Toulouse siege: Mohamed Merah shot in head,” Telegraph (London), March 22, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9160670/Toulouse-siege-Mohamed-Merah-shot-in-head.html;
“Toulouse shootings and siege: timeline,” Telegraph (London), March 22, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9160016/Toulouse-shootings-and-siege-timeline.html.
During the siege negotiations, he claimed the attacks were in response to the death of Palestinian children, and to protest French foreign military interventions and its ban on the Islamic veil.Harriet Alexander and Fiona Govan, “Toulouse shootings: the making of a French jihadi killer with a double life,” Telegraph (London), March 24, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9165091/Toulouse-shootings-the-making-of-a-French-jihadi-killer-with-a-double-life.html. He claimed that he intended to carry out more attacks, and expressed regret that he did not kill more people.Laura Smith-Spark, “Who was French gunman Mohammed Merah?” CNN, March 23, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/21/world/europe/france-shooting-suspect-profile/index.html. He also claimed that he was part of al-Qaeda and bragged about having “brought France to its knees.”“Obituary: Tolouse gunman Mohamed Merah,” BBC News, March 22, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17456541. On March 22, police attempted to storm his apartment. Merah was finally shot in the head after he jumped out of a widow in an attempt to escape.“Toulouse siege: Mohamed Merah shot in head,” Telegraph (London), March 22, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9160670/Toulouse-siege-Mohamed-Merah-shot-in-head.html.

Merah’s mother and four siblings were briefly detained after the attacks, and his brother Abdelkader was indicted on charges of complicity.“Toulouse shootings and siege: timeline,” Telegraph (London), March 22, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9160016/Toulouse-shootings-and-siege-timeline.html;
Dan Bilefsky, “Toulouse Killer’s Path to Radicalism a Bitter Puzzle,” New York Times, March 29, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/30/world/europe/toulouse-killers-path-a-bitter-puzzle.html.

Also Known As

Extremist entity
Al-Qaeda
Type(s) of Organization:
Non-state actor, religious, terrorist, transnational, violent
Ideologies and Affiliations:
Jihadist, pan-Islamist, Qutbist, Salafist, Sunni, takfiri
Position(s):
Domestic terrorist (allegedly affiliated with al-Qaeda)

Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks was the deadliest ever on American soil, killing nearly 3,000 people. Since the fall of the Taliban, al-Qaeda has established operations worldwide, including in Syria, the Gulf, North Africa, West Africa, East Africa, and the Indian subcontinent.

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On June 24, 2017, Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) launched back-to-back explosions at a market in Kurram Agency of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in northwest Pakistan. The attack killed 67 people who were shopping in preparation for a religious holiday and wounded 200 others. 

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