(WASHINGTON) — A senior U.S. official has confirmed to ABC News that Mohamed Merah, the 23-year-old suspect in three French terror attacks, was on the FBI’s “no-fly” list, and said that French authorities would be aware that the U.S. had placed Merah on the list as a terror risk.
Just hours after a special forces raid in which Merah died, France’s foreign minister said there were legitimate questions about how Merah was able to launch three attacks in which seven people died even though Merah had been on law enforcement’s radar ever since a late 2011 trip to Pakistan.
“I can understand questions about whether there was a failure on the part of intelligence services,” said Alain Juppe. “This should be looked into.” A spokesman for Francois Holland, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s chief rival in upcoming elections, called for an investigation into what he termed a “failure” by law enforcement.
After Merah was cornered by French special forces in a five-story apartment building in Toulouse on Wednesday, he told negotiators that he took credit for the three separate terror attacks, and said he had filmed them in hopes of placing the footage on the Internet. He also said that he had been to Pakistan for jihadi training, claimed a link to al Qaeda, and said he had launched the attacks to avenge the deaths of children in Gaza and the presence of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
In attacks on March 11 and 15, a gunman on a motorcycle shot and killed three paratroopers and wounded a fourth. All the soldiers who died were of North African descent. On March 19, a lone gunman on the same model bike and using the same Colt .45 killed a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse. Three other students were seriously wounded.
Merah allegedly told negotiators that he had chosen the school as a target after failing to locate another soldier. French officials said Wednesday that Merah had planned to launch another attack that day on a specific soldier and two policemen.
French special forces raided Merah’s home at 3 a.m. local time Wednesday, evacuating all other residents of the apartment building. Merah said he would surrender when dark fell, but then did not. He threw a Colt .45 out the window, but remained heavily armed with several automatic weapons and a store of ammunition. After a siege lasting 32 hours, and a series of explosions that were meant to unnerve Merah, a squad raided his apartment. At the end of a long gun battle, Merah died of a single shot to the head.
Interior Minister Claude Gueant said that Merah, who had a prior criminal record for petty offenses, was interviewed after returning to France from Waziristan, Pakistan, a region known for Taliban-linked terror training camps, in late 2011. Merah, a French national of Algerian descent, said he had traveled to Waziristan as a tourist. Gueant said Merah produced vacation photos to prove it.
According to French media, a neighbor of Merah’s had complained to police in 2010 after Merah allegedly made her son watch al Qaeda decapitation videos and declared himself a mujahideen.
The U.S. no-fly list is maintained by the FBI and contains the names of individuals who are not permitted to fly into or out of the United States because they are perceived to pose a risk. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that two U.S. officials had confirmed that Merah was on the list.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Barbie Latza Nadeau, Tim Hume and Vasco Cotovio, CNN
Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
Barbara Starr, CNN
Angela Dewan and Max Blau, CNN