Mother of Islamist Gunman Mohammed Merah, Who Murdered Rabbi and 3 Children in French Jewish School Attack, Causes Outrage at Ongoing Terror Trial
Chaotic scenes broke out on Wednesday at the trial in France of the brother of an Islamist extremist who carried out a spree of terrorist attacks around the southern city of Toulouse in March 2012, including a gun assault on a Jewish school that resulted in the brutal murders of a rabbi along with three young children.
Shouts and jeers erupted from the gallery at the court in Paris during the testimony of Zoulika Aziri — the mother of 35-year-old Abdelkader Merah, who could face a life sentence if he is found guilty of having aided his brother, Mohammed, in carrying out three separate terror attacks between March 11-19, 2012. Mohammed Merah was shot and killed by French police on March 22 of that year at the culmination of a 30-hour siege after he was tracked down.
Tempers at the court flared after Aziri’s lawyer, Eric Dupond-Moretti, justified her decision to lie in some of her statements to the court by describing her as a grieving mother. “This woman is the mother of the accused, but she is also the mother of a dead man,” he said, when urging prosecution lawyers to be less aggressive in their questioning. At this point in the proceedings, the brother of Sgt. Imad Ibn Ziaten — an off-duty French-Moroccan paratrooper shot dead by Mohammed Merah on March 11, 2012 — cried out “Are you not ashamed?” before leaving the courtroom sobbing in the arms of his relatives.
Prosecution lawyers became exasperated when Aziri denied having a conversation with Abdelkader Merah that had been secretly recorded by French police, in which Abdelkader described Mohammed Merah’s actions as a “gift.” “I am better than your engineers, I have my head!” Aziri told the court.
When questioned over the atmosphere in the Merah family home — depicted frankly in French press coverage as ridden with domestic violence and frequent expressions of Islamist hatred toward Jews and the West — she responded angrily, “We are not animals, we are a normal family!”
Aziri continued to insist on Abdelkader’s innocence, denying as well that she had advance knowledge of Mohammed’s plans to carry out terrorist attacks. Aziri has fallen out with her three other children, having denounced a third brother, Abdelghani, for having cooperated with the French police investigation into the attacks. A former wife of Abdelghani’s has said that Aziri abused her by spitting on her and calling her a “dirty Jew.”
Mohammed Merah carried out two further attacks after the murder of Sgt. Ibn Ziaten on March 11; a gun attack on March 15 in Montauban, in which two soldiers were killed and a third severely wounded, and another on March 19 at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school.
Merah arrived at the school on a motorcycle at 8 a.m., walking toward the schoolyard and then opening fire with a 9mm pistol. Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, a teacher at the school, and his two sons, Aryeh, 6, and Gabriel, 3, were killed immediately. After grabbing a third child, eight-year-old Miriam Monsonego, Merah attempted to shoot her through the head with the 9mm pistol. When that gun jammed, he pulled out a .45 caliber gun and shot Miriam through the temple.
Interviewed by The Algemeiner in 2015 to mark the third anniversary of the attack, Miriam’s father — school principal Rabbi Yaacov Monsonego — reflected that Merah had ultimately failed in his mission, observing that the school where his daughter was murdered had not lost its spirit, and was still flourishing.
Meanwhile, the clash over Merah’s mother’s testimony was not the only interruption to Wednesday’s proceedings. Two people were arrested and taken into police custody after officers overseeing security at Merah’s trial recently noticed “suspicious” activity at the courthouse where it was being held.
A person with direct knowledge of the case told The Associated Press that Paris prosecutors had opened an investigation for “criminal conspiracy in order to commit a crime or an offense, and unauthorized intrusion in a classified monument.”
The person was not authorized to speak publicly about the case and requested anonymity.
The French magazine Le Point reported that one of the people arrested worked at the courthouse. She allegedly gave her access badge to the second suspect, who used it to break into building, Le Point said.
The second suspect is known to police for petty criminal activities and has links to an extremist cell in Paris, according to the magazine.
The trial of Abdelkader Merah continued on Thursday with testimony from Bernard Squarcini, the former head of the French police counterterrorism agency. Squarcini told the court that Mohammed Merah had been radicalized by Islamist terror networks in France and abroad.
“He acted alone for more efficiency and to make sure he would not leave traces behind him,” Squarcini said. “Mohammed Merah acted alone, but other people were holding his hand.”