4:00am

Fri March 23, 2012
Europe

With Gunman Dead, France Probes For Answers

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene. Good morning.

Mohamed Mehra, the self-confessed gunman who terrorized the French city of Toulouse, was killed yesterday in a shootout with French police. Authorities had hoped to bring him in alive, to find out what drove him to commit the attacks that left seven dead, including three children at a Jewish school. Now, France is left to wonder whether its intelligence services missed signs that could've prevented the tragedy. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.

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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: That's the shootout Thursday morning that ended Mohamed Mehra's killing spree, and his life. The 23-year-old confessed to shooting three children and a teacher at a Jewish school, as well as three paratroopers of North African origin. Mehra told police he was proud to have brought France to its knees, and only regretted not killing more people. The country is now trying to come to grips with how a young man born and raised in this peaceful, southern city could have been driven to commit such heinous crimes.

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UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: This video of Mehra, taken a year and a half ago, has been playing on French TV. It shows him smiling and hamming it up as he drives a sports car around in a dusty parking lot. Mehra was raised by a single mother who immigrated from Algeria. Childhood friends describe him as the boy next door - fun-loving and even a polite teenager who was interested in cars, girls and soccer.

But the man the French media is calling Jekyll and Hyde had another side. By age 15, he was committing petty crimes. At 19, he spent time in prison, where he was apparently introduced to extremist ideologies.

In 2010 and '11, Mehra traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was put under surveillance upon his return, and even questioned by officials last November, but nothing more. Mehra's brother is also a known Salafist.

Now, there is a debate over whether French intelligence services did their job properly, especially as it has emerged that Mehra was on a U.S. no-fly list. Mehra's mother, brother and brother's girlfriend are still being held for questioning. And the investigation continues as France tries to uncover whether Mehra acted alone, or had accomplices.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.