Following a siege which began early this morning, French police have arrested the prime suspect in the killings of three Jewish children; the father of two of the children, who was a rabbi; and three French soldiers.
The suspect has been named as Mohammed Merah, a French national of Algerian origin. According to reports in the French media, Merah fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and after being captured he escaped in a mass breakout from Kandahar prison in 2008.
The news that the killer is not just a Muslim but a veteran jihadist will prove hard to swallow for sections of the liberal media both in Europe and the U.S., which had been playing down the possibility of an Islamist connection, and pushing the theory that the gunman was a “far-right” (the media’s term, not mine) extremist in the mold of the Norwegian mass-shooter Anders Breivik.
The selection of Jewish victims clearly suggested either an Islamist or “far-right” connection. But while the identities of the soldiers – two were Muslims of North African descent and the third was a black man — certainly allowed for the possibility that the gunman was a racist, and possibly a neo-Nazi, it was equally likely that the soldiers were targeted because of French involvement in Afghanistan, and that their ethnicity was irrelevant.
However, the narrative which had gained widespread popularity — certainly in the left-leaning British and American media — in the past few days was that the gunman was a racist who had been driven to committing the murders by the emergence of immigration, and Islam in particular, as an issue in the current French presidential campaign. The possibility of Islamic terrorism had been barely mentioned.