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The life and death of French gunman Mohamed Merah

March 22, 2012 |  2:52 pm

REPORTING FROM TOULOUSE, FRANCE, AND LOS ANGELES -- Mohamed Merah, who French police say confessed to killing seven people in a string of drive-by shootings, was shot in the head Thursday as he jumped from a window, still shooting, at the end of a standoff that lasted 32 hours.

Though the siege is over, reporters are still gathering information about who Merah was and why he killed. Here is what has been reported about Merah from The Times and elsewhere:

The basics

Mohamed Merah

French citizen of Algerian origin

23 years old

Unemployed auto-body repairman

His past

He grew up in Bellefontaine and moved as a teen to a housing estate in Les Izards, a troubled district in the northeast of Toulouse with a large North African population. He ran away from home before he turned 14 years old. (Le Monde / BBC)

Merah had a long record of petty crimes in France for which he served time in prison. His crimes included throwing rocks against a bus, stealing a cellphone, motorcycle theft and driving without a permit. (Associated Press / Le Monde)

His acquaintances told reporters he never seemed very interested in religion as he grew up and at one point went in for punk clothes. (The Washington Post)

Merah spent his time at home watching violent jihadist videos, including footage of beheadings. (International Business Times)

Merah tried to join the French Foreign Legion in July 2010, according to the French ministry of defense. He spent a night at a recruitment center, but left of his own accord without undergoing any tests. (Le Monde)

Merah is also reported to have tried to join the French army in January 2008. "He passed all the tests but the inquiry into his criminal record decided to reject his application," Col. Bruno Lafitte told AFP. (The Local / Agence France-Presse)

Two years ago he threatened a girl with a sword after she came over to complain that he made her younger brother watch Al Qaeda videos. (Le Monde)

His travels

Interior minister Claude Gueant said his radicalization took place in a Salafist ideological group and appeared to have been firmed up by two journeys he made to Afghanistan and Pakistan. (The Los Angeles Times)

Gueant said the Salafist group to which Merah belonged had no official name and had never given any indication of turning to criminal activity. (France 24)

His passport included stamps for Israel, then Syria, Iraq and Jordan, according to a senior U.S. official in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Before his arrest, he had traveled to the Indian consulate in Kandahar in order to obtain a visa to visit the country. The same source said that during questioning in Kandahar, Merah suggested "he had been, or had tried to go" to the Palestinian territories. (Le Monde)

His trip to Iraq was arranged by his brother Abdelkader, known to French police and intelligence services as a member of an Islamist network based in the Toulouse area and suspected of having organized for "holy warriors" to travel to Iraq. (Le Monde)

Though a Kandahar prison director claimed Merah had been jailed there in 2007 for planting bombs and had later escaped, his attorney and another Afghan offcial said he was not. (Reuters)

A person of the same name was arrested in southern Afghanistan five years ago and escaped from his prison cell in Kandahar province in a 2008 mass Taliban jailbreak, according to Kandahar provincial spokesman Ahmad Jawed Faisal. However, Faisal says their records also show that Merah was an Afghan citizen from Kandahar province. (Huffington Post)

Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman on detainee issues, said Merah had been taken into custody by police in Kandahar a few years ago, but that it remained unclear whether he had been released or turned over to American, French or other NATO nation control after that. (The New York Times)

Two people familiar with the case said Mohammed Merah was on the U.S. no-fly list because in 2010 he had been in custody in Afghanistan, then sent back to France. (Wall Street Journal)

Some information suggests he was adopted by the Uzbekistan Islamic Movement, which looked after "foreigners" who came to the region to fight "the infidels" in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2011.  He returned to France after contracting hepatitis. (Le Monde)

Merah had been asked by intelligence officials in November 2011 to explain his visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan and had shown them photographs to prove he had been a tourist, Gueant said. (BBC)

What others thought

A friend named Kamel said he was "respectful and generous. We never spoke about weapons, religion or politics, but cars, bikes, girls and sports.” (Associated Press)

"He did not give the impression that he could become radical and want to start committing acts of such absolute harshness," his attorney Christian Etelin said. "I've always known [him as] someone flexible in their behavior, civilized, and not so rigid that you'd imagine any kind of fanaticism." (Al Jazeera)

Etelin said he knew Merah since he was about 17, and described his life as typical for many teenagers and young men in poor French housing projects who get involved in criminal activity. "His mother couldn't control him, his father was totally absent, his sister ... also told me that she couldn't exercise any influence over him," the lawyer said. (Huffington Post)

On March 17, he ran into a former paratrooper, a friend of the first victim, embraced him and told him, "You are speaking to an angel." The unnamed former paratrooper said, "I didn't understand at the time." (La Depeche / BBC)

In the days before the police closed in on him, neighbors said, they had seen him praying on a soccer field near his block of apartments. (The New York Times)

Eric Lambert, 46, whose son was an upstairs neighbor, described Merah as friendly and "extremely normal," and said he helped carry a heavy sofa upstairs about 10 months ago. (The Guardian)

An unnamed young man who ran into him in a nightclub around the time of the first shooting told the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur: "He's a waster, a layabout. A loner. Not a serious guy.... Sometimes he had his hair long, sometimes short, sometimes red." (Le Nouvel Observateur / BBC)

French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said Merah's mother had declined to help police by speaking to her son "because she did not believe she could convince him and he would be deaf to her appeals." (The Guardian / France 24)

His philosophy

A man believed to be Merah called a French television journalist and said he carried his attacks to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children, to protest bans on women wearing the full Islamic veils, and because of the French military presence in Afghanistan. (France 24)

Merah told police he was linked to a fringe Al Qaeda group. Merah claimed that he been asked by Al Qaeda to carry out a suicide attack in Europe but refused because he preferred to kill and live, officials said. (The Los Angeles Times)

His attacks

Merah filmed all three killings with a camera strapped to his neck. In his first killing, he said to a French paratrooper as he shot him, "You kill my brothers, I kill you," according to a French prosecutor. After the second shooting, Merah could be heard shouting "God is great" in Arabic as he drove off on his motorbike. (The Los Angeles Times)

Merah boasted that he had "brought France to its knees," and had been planning further killings when police surrounded him, prosecutor Francois Molins said. (The Los Angeles Times)

His death

Merah promised to give himself up, but as night fell, the "talkative" gunman, who communicated with police using a walkie-talkie, fell silent. (The Los Angeles Times)

After initially agreeing to surrender, Merah declared he would resist and that it would be either them or him. “If it's me, who cares? I'll go to paradise,” Molins quoted Merah as saying. (Associated Press)

On Thursday morning, after 12 hours of silence and no sign of life from the apartment, police wondered if Merah had committed suicide. He was hiding from cameras and heat-seeking devices in the bathroom. When dozens of police stormed the apartment, he burst out shooting with two automatic weapons. He jumped out of a balcony window, still firing at police, and was shot in the head. (The Los Angeles Times)

When police raided his apartment, he was wearing a bulletproof vest over a black djellaba tucked into his jeans, Molins said. (La Depeche)

RELATED:

Jihadist group claims responsibility for French shooting

Suspect in French shooting attacks dead after raid, shootout

French investigating whether Toulouse gunman was "lone wolf"

-- Kim Willsher in Toulouse and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Video: This footage from a French television station is said to show Merah behind the wheel of a car. The video was found in the home of a friend, according to news reports. Credit: France 2

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