Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah was buried in his hometown Toulouse on Thursday, despite a protest by the French city’s mayor after the serial killer’s homeland Algeria refused his corpse.
Around 15 mainly young men accompanied 23-year-old Merah’s gold-handled casket into the city’s Cornebarrieu cemetery where Muslim prayers were recited before the al-Qaeda-inspired killer’s body was laid to rest.
Journalists were kept out of the cemetery by police.
Muslim official Abdallah Zekri said he expected the body to be buried in an anonymous grave as “the family wants a burial that is the most simple and discreet possible.”
The burial took place after President Nicolas Sarkozy waded into the debate over where the man who shot dead three Jewish children, a teacher and three soldiers should be buried after he himself was killed in a police raid.
“He was French. Let him be buried and let’s not have any arguments about it,” Sarkozy told BFMTV news channel in a bid to bring an end to a tragic episode that eclipsed an increasingly tight presidential election campaign.
“I’ve said what I think of Mohamed Merah, who behaved in a monstrous way,” Sarkozy said of the gunman shot dead by police at his Toulouse flat on March 22, exactly a week earlier.
Toulouse mayor Pierre Cohen called earlier for a last-minute delay to the burial, saying it was “inappropriate” for him to be buried in his hometown in southwestern France where he also carried out some of his killings.
But Zekri of the French Muslim Council told AFP that after negotiations, Merah would be buried in the Toulouse cemetery’s Muslim section. Zekri earlier criticized the mayor’s call for a delay.
“The announcement is, frankly, ill-placed. Mohamed Merah was born here, he lived here, he died here. Let him be buried and be done with it. We must stop this argument,” he said.
Family members had wanted the Frenchman of Algerian descent flown to Algeria, but they changed their mind after Algeria refused the body.
“The family has asked me to organize 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 his killing spree, died in a hail of police bullets last Thursday after a 32-hour siege on his Toulouse flat.
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” in France.
The father of the Toulouse gunman hired an Algerian lawyer to sue a crack French police unit over his son’s death, the lawyer told AFP news agency on Wednesday.
“Mr. (Mohamed Benalal) Merah came to our office in Algiers yesterday to formally ask us to sue the French security services (RAID) for not having followed procedure during the attempt to arrest Mohamed Merah and his murder,” Zahia Mokhtari said.
“Mr. Merah thinks that his son was murdered. He has asked us to file a complaint against the French security services,” she added. “We will begin the procedure once the burial is completed.”
Benanel Merah told France 24 that police besieging his son’s Toulouse flat “could have used sleep-inducing gas and taken him like a baby.”
“Why were they so hasty?” he asked. “Why did they kill him? He could have been sentenced to many years in prison or even a life sentence. There is no death penalty in France.”
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Tuesday that the father of the gunman who had earlier threatened to sue over his son’s death at the hands of police should keep silent in shame.
“If I were the father of such a monster, I would shut my mouth in shame,” Juppe told Radio Classique