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France closes Mohamed Merah Facebook page but web terror law must wait

Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier

A Facebook page idolising Toulouse killer Mohamed Merah has been closed after France’s interior ministry asked the social networking site to remove it. But President Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal to punish regular visitors to jihadist websites will have to wait until after the presidential election.

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More than 500 people consulted the Facebook page, called "Homage to Mohamed Merah", in the few hours it was online. Many of them left comments attacking the police or supporting radical Islam.

The page went up just a few hours after Merah was killed at the end of a 31-hour siege of his flat in the southern French city. It carried a photo of its idol taken from a video of him that circulated on the internet.

Within two hours of elite police shooting Merah dead, President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to take legal action against people who regularly consult websites that endorse political violence, as well as people who travel abroad to be “indoctrinated”.

The measures could be introduced immediately, Prime Minister François Fillon said, “if there is consensus” on recalling the National Assembly, currently suspended because of the presidential election.

But the opposition Socialists have already said no to the idea.

Manuel Valls, communication chief for the party’s presidential candidate, François Hollande, on Friday ruled out voting on a new law before the election and took a sideswipe at the way the crisis has been handled.

“The measures announced, in a rush, show that people recognise that there have been problems, shortcomings,” he told Europe 1 radio.

Intelligence agencies have come under fire for failing to prevent the killing spree, even though they had been tracking Merah for several years, and there is now debate as to whether he could have been taken alive.

Investigators have viewed “extremely explicit” video of the killings of three soldiers, two Jewish children and a teacher that Merah shot with a camera strapped to his chest while he carried out his attacks.

Police found a bag containing the camera after Merah told negotiators that he had given it to someone else during the siege that ended with his death, prosecutor François Molins told media Thursday.

Although the killer claimed that he acted alone, the investigation will look into whether he had any accomplices, he said.

Police on Friday prolonged the detention of Merah’s brother, Abdelkadir, his mother and Abdelkadir’s girlfriend.

A boxer with the same name as the Toulouse killer has been pestered by journalists and could have his sporting career ruined, according to his trainer.

The other Mohamed Merah, nicknamed Parigo, has received phone calls from foreign journalists who confused  him with his namesake and has even had his photo posted on a website incorrectly identifying him as the killer, according to coach Robert Pantigny.

 

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