TOULOUSE, France, March 29, 2012 (AFP)
TOULOUSE, France, March 29, 2012 (AFP)
The body of an Islamist extremist gunman will be buried in France on Thursday, a Muslim official said, after Algeria refused it for security reasons and despite the family’s objections.
In the wake of the attacks that left seven people dead, France also said it had barred four Islamic preachers from entering the country because their “calls for hatred and violence… represent a serious threat to public order.”
Family members had said earlier the body of 23-year-old Mohamed Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian descent, was to be flown to Algeria Thursday for burial in his ancestral homeland.
But an Islamic official who has been assisting the family, Abdallah Zekri of the French Muslim Council, said Merah’s relatives had instead asked him to organise a funeral in the southwestern city of Toulouse.
“The family has asked me to organise a funeral in France within 24 hours, in agreement with the authorities, because Algeria refused to accept Mohamed Merah’s body for security reasons,” Zekri told AFP in Toulouse.
“The family is disappointed, but at the same time it understands,” Zekri said.
Merah, branded a “monster” by French leaders after the killing of three Jewish children and a teacher and three French paratroopers, died in a hail of police bullets last Thursday after a 32-hour siege on his Toulouse flat.
Zekri said Merah would be buried at 1500 GMT in the Muslim section of the city’s Cornebarrieu cemetery.
He said he believed the body would be buried in an anonymous grave and that “the family wants a burial that is the most simple and discreet as possible”.
Merah’s parents had asked for his body to be buried in Algeria, with his mother Zoulhika Aziri saying she feared his grave would be “vandalised”.
His father, Mohamed Benalal Merah, has lashed out at French authorities over his son’s death and threatened to sue France, drawing sharp criticism from French officials.
French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said the choice of a burial site was a “private matter” for the family.
In a joint statement meanwhile, the foreign and interior ministries said France was refusing entry to four prominent Muslim preachers invited to a meeting next week of the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF).
“These people’s positions and statements calling for hatred and violence seriously damage republican principles and, in the current context, represent a serious threat to public order,” the statement said.
The ban applies to Saudi clerics Ayed Bin Abdallah al-Qarni and Abdallah Basfar, Egyptian cleric Safwat al-Hijazi and former mufti of Jerusalem Akrama Sabri.
The statement said France also “regrets” that Swiss intellectual Tariq Ramadan had been invited to the conference, while preachers Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Mahmud al-Masri had decided not to attend.
President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Monday that Qaradawi, 86, an influential Qatar-based Sunni Muslim cleric, was not welcome in France.
In the latest developments in the probe into Merah’s attacks, police said they had found an abandoned car near Toulouse with possible links to the killings.
The car, a Renault Clio, was discovered in the village of Saint-Papoul and contained a helmet and parts for a Yamaha TMAX scooter like the one used in Merah’s attacks, a police source told AFP.
The car was registered under the name of a man with the same address as Merah, the source said without elaborating.
When police surrounded Merah’s Toulouse apartment last week, the gunman fought off an initial assault and then, in a conversation with a police negotiator, claimed responsibility for the attacks.
He said he shot dead three soldiers in two separate attacks in Toulouse and nearby Montauban on March 11 and 15, then last Monday opened fire at a Jewish school in Toulouse, killing a 30-year-old teacher, his sons aged five and four, and a seven-year-old girl.
On Sunday, authorities charged the gunman’s brother, 29-year-old Abdelkader Merah, with complicity in the attacks, but he has denied any involvement.