A police probe revealed that the al-Qaeda-inspired gunman Mohamed Merah, who killed seven people in the French city of Toulouse, was a gifted student who had a difficult childhood and showed early signs of a violent streak, the French daily Le Monde reported this week.
Merah was shot dead by the police on March 22 at the end of a 32-hour siege at his flat in the southern French city.
The 23-year-old had killed three soldiers, three children and a teacher, in a series of killings that shocked the country.
Le Monde published a letter dating back to April 22, 2003, by Merah’s tormented mother addressed to a judge:
“Your Honor, I would like to raise the case of my son Mohamed Merah. Following my request and your ruling, my ex-husband Mohamed Merah had the permanent custody of our son. Unfortunately, (...) he (...) has escaped from his father’s home to return to my place, and he had physically assaulted both his sister and me, and put my flat into a complete mess (...). His teacher said there is nothing we could do for him and that no institution will take him. (...) I am unable to cope with the violence of my son. In addition to his aggressiveness, his speech is always about “death.” Your Honor, I (...) call for your help [to find] a solution (...) so he can learn his limits (...). Please accept, your Honor, the expression of my highest consideration.”
The letter was just one example amongst hundreds of others exposed in the trial record of Merah’s case. All these documents tell the story of a troubled family and reflect the climate of violence and lack of love in which the killer grew up.
Merah’s father abandoned the family in his early childhood, leaving him with his mother, Zoulikha Aziri, and older brother Abdelkader, who has been charged in connection with the shootings.
The absent father, to whom Merah is the thirteenth child, returned to his country, Algeria, once retired. The distressed mother, who used to be beaten by her husband, terrorized by her older son, Abdelkader, and aggressed by Mohamed himself, was left alone in a country she wasn’t really familiar with.
Merah’s father arrived to France in the mid-1960s.
Mohamed Merah (senior) has seven children from his first marriage with Fatma and six (one who will not live) from his second wife, Zoulikha, a pretty brunette, fifteen years younger than him, whom he married in Algeria in 1975 and brought her with him to France few years later.
The young woman never went to school and faced hard times coping in a country she was not familiar with. In October 1988, a new baby was born. They called him after his father’s name.
Mohamed Merah was less than four years old when his parents got separated, which was the date of his first fugue. “He waited for everyone to sleep and went out on the street alone,” recounted a psychologist in 2002 at the Court of Appeal in Toulouse.
When he was seven, “he mentioned a man who was speaking to him in his own head,” his mother confided later to the police.
The big brother
Merah’s older brother, Abdelkader, was only 13 when a first report of his acts of violence was sent to the judge. He used to come home late and aggressively objects to his mother. In their neighborhood, the Merah brothers were known for petty crimes, vandalism, broken windows…etc.
Zoulikha Aziri became worried about her youngest son, who had difficulties in school, and whose “only male example at home” was his brother Abdelkader.
The year 2000 marked a turning point in their lives.
Merah was in the sixth grade, he did well in his classes, and excelled mostly in arts, but his behavior was “too often unacceptable,” according to social services reports quoted by Le Monde.
Merah “would like for his mother to spend more time and attention to him (but) he thinks she is too busy with Abdelkader,” one of the reports said.
“Kader”, as he is called in the neighborhood, terrorized the family and made the law at home. He bought a pitbull, which would later hurt Mohamed, and used to assault his mother and his younger brother.
Zoulikha Aziri secretly hoped that the situation would work out at the beginning of September of that same year, as Abdelkader moved out of the family house. But Mohamed followed the footsteps of his brother Kader in which he sought a lifelong “male model to identify with.”
Just like him, he refused the parental authority. “He hit me, bit me, emptied the fridge on the floor, broke everything... I cannot speak to him badly or he would run away or insult me in front of everyone,” said Zoulikha Aziri to the psychologist of the Court of Appeal of Toulouse in 2002, the newspaper reported.
In 2002, Merah was therefore placed in a foster home but his behavior grew more violent by the day.
“He insults the girls... who ask us to protect them and lock their room doors,” one of the center’s department heads said. “Every day we have to intervene for a theft, conflict or assault that Mohamed was behind.”
In high school, he was described by the principal as a “particularly gifted” student who “risks becoming a dangerous adolescent in view of his intellectual abilities.”
As a teenager, Merah would frequently threaten to commit suicide and had numerous run-ins with authorities.
When he reached the “legal age,” he was sent to jail for an eighteen month theft sentence.
Prison and Religion
Mohamed Merah’s father saw in religion a way to “protect [his children] of the corrupt life led by the French and some Algerians,” he told Paris Match.
Despite the money his father promised him in return of praying, Mohamed Merah was not religious. What happened in prison remains a mystery. When he came out, Merah was an adult with a beard who wore the traditional dress. Psychologists have repeatedly said he “lacked points of reference,” which he might have found in the rigorous practice of Islam.
Mohamed Merah hung out with “extremists,” said his mother to the police, but, according to Souad, his older sister, his relation with the “radicals” did not last because of the “unstable” character of her brother. Soon enough, Mohamed Merah left the traditional dress, and retained his old habits with his friends in the neighborhood.
But secretly, he was nicknamed Abu Yusuf and he curiously refused to use the telephone.
One morning, he disappeared. Everyone believed he was visiting his father, in Algeria. Souad Merah became suspicious when, on his return, he told her he “saw tigers”. In reality, Mohamed Merah went to Syria, Jordan, Iraq and met Kader in Cairo, who was attending courses in Arabic.
On Dec. 15, 2011, upon his return from Pakistan, he married 17-year-old Hizia, whose face was hidden behind a ‘niqab’. Hizia, just as the others believed her husband was on “tourist trips.” “He talked a lot and needed someone to listen. He needed love and I often compared him to a baby,” she told the police. On Jan. 2nd, he dropped her at her parents’ house and divorced her.
As a final scene to his “wretched life” Mohamed Merah dreamed of a spectacular death. The videos of his crimes, the list of the media outlets to contact found on his desk, were all signs of a careful preparation for the murders.
On Thursday, March 15, he invited his sister Aisha and his brother Abdelkader to share a pizza and a drink, reported Le Monde.
That same day, four days after his first assassination, two soldiers were killed and another seriously injured. The following Monday, he executed four people and injured a fifth in front of the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse.
The mother of Mohamed Merah learned about her son’s death from the police during her detention. His brother Kader asked the officers how many bullets he had “been shot.”
The father, who was in Algeria, since 2004 ran to buy a satellite dish when he learned that the “scooter killer” in France was his younger son, and, until the final assault of the police, had not left his television screen.
Merah’s father has filed a murder suit in Paris over the death of his son in the shootout.
(Written by Rana Khoury)