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France probing if dead shooting suspect had accomplices

French President Nicolas Sarkozy vows visiting sites which 'support terrorism or call for hate or violence' will be punishable by law

AP , Thursday 22 Mar 2012
France
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy is seen making a statement on French national television from the Elysee Palace in Paris, in this still image taken from video, Thursday, (Photo: Reuters).
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy says that French who visit Internet sites supporting terrorism will be punished by law, a new measure in a crackdown following the 32-hour standoff with a Frenchman claiming al-Qaida ties suspected in three deadly attacks.

Sarkozy spoke on Thursday after authorities announced the death in the southwest city of Toulouse of Mohamed Merah, 23, who jumped from a window firing his weapon as police moved in after a 32-hour standoff.

The French president said that an investigation is under way to see if the suspect in the series of radical Islam-inspired killings had any accomplices.

Seven people were killed in nine days in the Toulouse area — three paratroopers, a rabbi and three young children at a Jewish school.

Merah had traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan for training, officials said.

"All was done to bring the killer to justice, but it was inconceivable to risk lives ... There have already been too many deaths," Sarkozy said after a meeting with the defense, justice and foreign ministers.

He announced a new crackdown in France on the spread of terrorist-linked ideologies and activities.

Anyone who regularly visits "websites which support terrorism or call for hate or violence will be punished by the law," Sarkozy said. He promised a crackdown on anyone who goes abroad "for the purposes of indoctrination in terrorist ideology."

The president appealed to the French not to confuse terrorism and Islam.

France's Muslims "had nothing to do with the crazy motive of a terrorist," he said, referring to the nation's estimated 5 million Muslims, the largest such population in western Europe.

Police said, during hours of negotiations Wednesday when the standoff first began, Merah admitted to being proud of the seven slayings he carried out in three shooting attacks in the Toulouse region. They are believed to be the first killings inspired by Islamic radical motives in France in more than a decade.

Authorities said Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent, espoused a radical form of Islam and had been to Afghanistan and the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan, where he claimed to have received training from al-Qaida.

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