- Associated Press - Thursday, March 29, 2012

TOULOUSE, France (AP) — The gunman who claimed responsibility for France’s worst terror attacks in years was buried Thursday in a Toulouse cemetery, ending a tortured debate over what to do with the body of a man the president called a “monster.”

France is still reeling from the killings of three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers that revived worries about Islamist extremism and shook up the French presidential campaign.

Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman, was buried Thursday in the Muslim section of a cemetery in the Toulouse neighborhood of Cornebarrieu. About 20 men attended the ceremony, hiding their faces from reporters gathered outside.

“It’s all over. We aren’t talking about it anymore. He is in his grave,” Abdallah Zekri of the French Muslim Council, or CFCM, said afterward.

Those attending the ceremony were mostly young friends of Merah’s from the housing projects where he grew up, Mr. Zekri said.

Mr. Zekri, who was present for the burial, led protracted negotiations in recent days with Merah’s family, Algerian authorities and Toulouse authorities over where to bury him.

Police say Merah filmed himself killing seven people in a spate of attacks earlier this month. Merah, who espoused radical Islam and said he had links to al Qaeda, was shot in the head after a standoff with police last week in this southern city.

His brother is in custody on suspected complicity, and police are looking for a potential third man who might have helped.

Merah’s father said that he wanted his son buried in a family plot in the Medea region of Algeria, a solution that seemed to satisfy French officials uncomfortable with the question of what to do with his remains.

With that plan in mind, Merah’s body was brought to the Toulouse airport Thursday, and his mother had been expecting to accompany it to Algiers on a flight later in the day.

But Algerian authorities refused for “reasons of public order,” Mr. Zekri said.

Plans were made to bury Merah at the Muslim cemetery in Toulouse — but the Toulouse mayor objected and tried to delay it another day. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, on the campaign trail for next month’s presidential elections, intervened.

“Let him be buried, and let’s not create a debate about this,” Mr. Sarkozy said.

Under pressure from the central government in Paris, the mayor relented and agreed to an evening internment.

Attention will now focus on the investigation.

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