A day after it was reported that Mohammed Merah, the terrorist who murdered seven people including a rabbi and three young children in Toulouse, visited Israel several years ago, more details emerged about the trip on Friday.
The head of France's intelligence agency, Bernard Squarcini, said in an interview with the French Le Monde newspaper that Merah not only visited Israel in 2010, but was also arrested by police in Jerusalem after a knife was found on him.
Sqaurcini also told the newspaper that it was impossible to prevent the attack at the Otzar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse, explaining that “the terrorist did not originally intend to murder Jewish children. In his first testimony while he was holed up in his home he said he intended to kill another soldier” but failed to find him and so he “improvised” the attack on the school.
On Thursday, an American officer serving in Afghanistan told Le Monde that Merah’s passport had been stamped with entry to and exit from Israel.
The National Immigration Authority said later that an initial investigation found that Merah never visited Israel. Kol Yisrael radio reported that the National Immigration Authority said that the terrorist's name, as published in the media, was not found in the list of arrivals to Israel. The authority added that it is continuing to investigate the matter.
Meanwhile, the terrorist's older brother said Friday that he is very proud of his younger brother, according to a report in the French newspaper Le Point. According to the report, the brother who has been held in police custody since Wednesday, told police that he had no regrets and that he supports his younger brother’s actions.
On Friday, French police extended the remand of Merah’s brother, mother and girlfriend. Officials said Merah's brother, Abdelkader Merah, is himself a radical Islamist, and that traces of what could be an explosive material were found in his car.
Also on Friday, French authorities sought to defend their actions amid reports that Merah had been under surveillance, yet still managed to carry out his terror attacks.
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant had admitted Merah was on an intelligence service watch list of Islamic extremists but added that while Merah had a criminal record, nothing in his history suggested he was likely to commit acts of violence.
Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent, travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009 where he is believed to have attended terrorist training camps.
He returned to France, probably in 2010, and was questioned by French authorities as recently as November last year.
French Prime Minister François Fillon said on Friday that there was no reason to arrest Merah before he committed the murders. Speaking in an interview on a French radio station, Fillon said France has no right to regularly monitor a man who has not committed any crime without court approval. He said that the secret service had monitored Merah but did not reach the conclusion that he is a dangerous person who may perform such acts.
President Shimon Peres arrived on Friday morning to comfort the Sandler and Monsonego families as they were sitting shiva in mourning of their loved ones. Peres told Eva Sandler, whose husband Rabbi Yonatan and two sons were murdered in the attack, “The tragedy that happened to you is a cruel disaster, a huge loss and I know that every moment you’ve been going through since the murder of your husband and children is intolerable and painful. I can only imagine what you're going through during these difficult times.”
Yaakov Monsonego, the principal of Otzar Hatorah and father of eight-year-old Miriam who was killed in the attack, shared with the President the horrors he saw during the terror attack.
“Yonatan Sandler and his two sons were waiting along with Miriam outside the school,” Monsonego told Peres. “I was already inside the and suddenly I heard screaming and people yelling, ‘We are being shot at.’ The attacker fled and we discovered the great tragedy that occurred.”
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)