According to French Interior Minister Claude Guéant, the similarities between the assassination of soldiers in Toulouse and Montauban and the eerie butchery at Ozar Hatora were “compelling.” Moreover, investigators established that the criminal used the same weapon, a World War II 11.43 gun, in all three instances. What remained unclear, according to police, was the number of killers and whether they had received support from a larger criminal network. Motive also remained a mystery.
For 48 hours, many speculated about a neo-Nazi psychopath, some sort of French Tim McVeigh or Anders Breivik. What seemed to encourage this view was the fact that the shooter targeted only non-Caucasian soldiers and Jews and that a neo-Nazi network had been investigated and prosecuted among the Montauban military four years ago.
In fact, the police already knew their suspect: one single killer, a jihadist. The man — Mohammed Merah, a French citizen of Algerian origin — was not even hiding. Confident that police sought a neo-Nazi, he stayed at his unassuming home in Toulouse. Tuesday evening, the Raid huntsmen and dozens of other police personnel circled the building. At 3:00 AM they tried to apprehend him alive. He fired on them, wounding two. By 6:00 PM local time, the police expect him to surrender soon.
According to various sources, Merah is primarily a thief who grew radicalized by jihadists while incarcerated. After jail he traveled to Pakistan and possibly Afghanistan, where he received first class combat training. While negotiating with the police on Wednesday, he claimed to belong to al-Qaeda. That may be true or not. Little doubt remains, however, that his systematic murders of French soldiers (especially Muslim French soldiers, seen as renegades) and Jews (including children) fit with jihadist and al-Qaeda ideology, strategy, and tactics.