Gunman in French terror attacks buried

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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.

Merah’s brother has been handed preliminary charges of alleged complicity in preparing the killings, though his lawyer insists that Abdelkader Merah had no idea what his brother was plotting.

Abdelkader Merah told investigators that a third man helped the Merah brothers steal a motorbike used later in the killings, two police officials said Thursday. Abdelkader Merah did not give the name of the other man.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to be publicly named.

The shootings were the worst terrorist attacks in France since the 1990s and have revived concerns about home-grown Islamist radicals carrying out violence. Mohamed Merah traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan and said he received weapons training there.

French Muslims have worried about a backlash after Merah’s attacks, and French leaders have urged the public not to equate Islam with terrorism.

But concerns about radical Islam are high, and the government on Thursday banned a string of international Muslim clerics from entering France for a conference of a fundamentalist Islamic group.

Also Thursday, a former nuclear physicist went on trial in Paris on accusations of plotting attacks with the North African wing of al Qaeda. But his defenders say he only sent some angry emails and fear he may be unfairly linked with the Merah case.

In a separate, apparently unconnected development, Indonesia’s anti-terrorism chief said a French militant is the chief suspect in last week’s blast at the Indonesian Embassy in Paris.

The suspect is Frederic C. Jean Salvi, who allegedly spent several years studying with Islamic militants in Indonesia, anti-terrorism agency chief Ansyaad Mbai told the Associated Press in Jakarta.

The package bomb that exploded March 21 did not cause any injuries or major damage.

Thomas Adamson in Paris and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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