PARIS  - The brother of the French gunman who killed seven people including young children in a shooting spree that shocked France has boasted that he is “proud” of his sibling’s actions, police said Saturday. Anti-terrorist police in Paris are interrogating killer Mohamed Merah’s older brother Abdelkader who was transferred from detention in the southwestern city of Toulouse on Saturday along with his girlfriend. Mohamed Merah was labelled a “monster” by French President Nicolas Sarkozy after he murdered three Jewish children, a trainee rabbi and three soldiers in three separate gun attacks this month in and near Toulouse.
He was killed on Thursday in a hail of bullets as he tried to shoot his way out of a Toulouse apartment, bringing a 32-hour siege to a dramatic end but raising questions over police handling of the case.
Abdelkader Merah, 29, who was first taken into custody on Wednesday, admitted being present when the scooter used in the killings was stolen, even though he had said he knew nothing of his brother’s criminal intentions.
But he said he was “proud” of Mohamed, whose murderous attacks triggered horror and revulsion across France and the world and led to the suspension of the campaign for country’s presidential election in April and May.
Police and prosecutors have described Adebelkader as more of a radical Islamist than his brother and that traces of what could be an explosive material had been found in his car.
Mohamed’s mother Zoulhika Aziri, who was released without charge on Friday, was “wracked with guilt and remorse” over her son’s actions, her lawyer Jean-Yves Gougnaud said.
“Could she have prevented these things, this is what she is asking herself,” he said, adding that she was so fearful of reprisals she would not return home.
Sarkozy was due to hold an emergency meeting Saturday with Prime Minister Francois Fillon and several ministers to discuss security issues amid criticism of the way police handled the affair.
France also lifted its highest-level terror alert in the southwest, imposed after the gunman’s cold-blooded shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse on March 19.
A judicial source also said police had identified the gun used in the attacks as a Colt 45.
France’s interior minister has already launched a robust defence of the police amid criticism of the operation that ended in Merah’s dramatic death.
Already under pressure over accusations that intelligence failures allowed Merah to carry out three deadly attacks before being tracked down, police also face questions over the raid that ended in his death.
Speculation is rife over Merah’s motives and whether he had any accomplices. He had claimed to be an Al-Qaeda member who killed to avenge Palestinian children and punish France for sending troops to Afghanistan.
Interior Minister Claude Gueant told Le Figaro that Merah was a “terrorist acting alone.”
“It’s the first time that France has been confronted with this particular type of action,” he said, dismissing criticism of the police as “irresponsible”.
“The men who carried out this operation are very great professionals,” he added.
Fillon has said security officials knew Merah was a radical Islamist who had visited Afghanistan but had no reason to suspect he was planning attacks in France, home to Western Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim communities.
Intelligence agents “watched him long enough to come to the conclusion that there was no element, no indication, that this was a dangerous man who would one day pass from words to acts,” Fillon said on Friday.
The head of France’s DCRI domestic intelligence agency, Bernard Squarcini, has said there was little more that security services could have done to prevent Merah’s atrocities.
Christian Prouteau, who founded the GIGN, another elite unit drawn from the national police’s rivals in the gendarmerie, said that if they had used tear gas they would have had a chance of capturing Merah alive, drawing a sharp reaction from French police unions.
While holed up, Merah told police that he travelled to Pakistan in 2011, but had been trained by a single individual, not at one of the usual training centres where spies might have reported his presence.
French agents had investigated Merah after his trip to Afghanistan, but found none of the usual danger signs.
“No ideological activism, no visiting mosques,” Squarcini said.