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Sarkozy asks TV channels not to show shootings film

Al Jazeera television network says considering whether to broadcast video footage filmed by the French gunman Mohamed Merah during his bloody shooting spree

Reuters , Tuesday 27 Mar 2012
French President Nicolas Sarkozy (Photo: Reuters)
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President Nicolas Sarkozy urged television networks on Tuesday not to broadcast video footage of three deadly shootings in southern France filmed by an al Qaeda-inspired gunman using a camera strapped to his body.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera is considering whether to show the film, received at its Paris bureau on a memory stick late on Monday, the network's Paris bureau chief Zied Tarrouche said.

Gunman Mohamed Merah, 23, told police before they shot him dead last week that he had recorded the images as he killed three Jewish children, a rabbi and three soldiers at point-blank range in the city of Toulouse and nearby Montauban.

The film clips had been edited together with Islamic chants and readings from the Koran, Tarrouche said.

"I call on executives of all TV stations that may have the images in their possession not to broadcast them under any pretext out of respect for the victims and for France," Sarkozy said following a meeting with police chiefs in Paris.

Al Jazeera staff sent a copy of the video montage to the network's headquarters in Qatar for management there to decide how to proceed, Tarrouche told French BFM TV.

"Management will decide today what we will do with this footage," Tarrouche said. "We have explained to management the issues with broadcasting or not broadcasting this footage."

France is still reeling from the shootings a month before a presidential election in which Sarkozy faces an uphill struggle against a Socialist challenger.

Using a stolen scooter and a Colt .45 pistol, Merah carried out the three attacks over eight days before being cornered by police and eventually shot dead by a sniper after a more than 30-hour siege during which he confessed to the murders.

Tarrouche said the video showed all the murders of the soldiers and then the rabbi and the Jewish children, at the entrance to their school shortly before the start of classes.

"You hear the voice of the person who carried out the killings. You also hear the victims' cries," he said. "My feelings are those of any human being who sees horrible things. For me the issue is whether to broadcast this or not."

The CSA broadcast regulator also asked television channels to not broadcast the video images, a spokesman said.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the footage could have a dangerous effect on people inclined to radical violence.

"This incitement to violence, to murder, on minds that are often fragile or deranged, is absolutely detestable," he told Radio Classique.

Four anti-terrorist judges are heading the investigation into France's worst attack by a radical Islamist in years and are probing Merah's elder brother, Abdelkader, as an accomplice.

Abdelkader, 29 and already known to security services for having helped smuggle Jihadist militants into Iraq in 2007, will remain in jail for the duration of an inquiry that could last months before a decision on whether to send him to trial.

Police believe Mohamed Merah operated largely as a lone wolf although he may have had logistical and ideological support from his brother and possibly others.

Investigators have begun looking for a possible additional accomplice involved in the theft of the scooter Merah used during his attacks, a police source told Reuters. It was also not clear whether the gunman, his brother or someone else had posted the memory stick to Al Jazeera.

French media said the brothers' Algerian father wanted Mohamed's body to be taken to Algeria for burial and that he also planned to take legal action against the French government over his son's death. Sarkozy said he was "outraged".

"Does this man have to be reminded that his son filmed his crimes and took diabolical care to send these ghastly images to a television station?" the president asked.

Sarkozy, who is running for a second term in a two-round election on April 22 and May 6 has seen his opinion poll scores inch up since the attacks, although pollsters expect the focus to soon return to economic issues.

A survey by pollster BVA published in the daily Le Parisien found only 8 percent of respondents said security was an issue that would affect their vote, far behind a string of economic and social issues including purchasing power for 42 percent of respondents and unemployment for 30 percent of them.

The same survey found that 51 percent of voters thought the Toulouse killings would have a major impact on the overall vote, but only 17 percent thought it would impact their own vote. 

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