Toulouse killer’s neighbors say “he was one of us”
In the neighborhood where Mohamed Merah grew up, and was last seen joking with friends days after he had killed three French soldiers in a pair of shootings, the message to outsiders is clear: he was one of our own, no matter what he did.
The self-styled Islamist militant tore a wound in France’s fragile sense of community when he gunned down the soldiers, sons of North African immigrant families like his own, and then a rabbi and three Jewish children – all in the name of al Qaeda.
in Les Izards, the 1960s housing project where Merah, 23, felt most at home, the reaction to his rampage has been one of anxious defiance of outsiders trying to peer into what seems like a closed world, cut off from elegant downtown Toulouse by its poverty, by crime and, locals say, by racial discrimination.
“I’m going to tell you one thing: he was a kid from this neighborhood and we support his family no matter what people say on TV,” said one middle-aged mother of Algerian origin who said she had known Merah when he was a child in Les Izards.
Typical of others in the area of low-rise blocks and tidy squares a 15-minute metro ride north of the city centre, she did not want to be named when speaking up for the man who was, briefly, public enemy No. 1: “He was one of ours,” she said. “And we will never be sure of what really happened.”
By one local account of a confrontation between youths and the authorities in the neighborhood, after Merah was killed trying to escape a siege of his apartment, one young man was arrested after yelling at the police ranks: “My friend Mohamed is a real man – too bad he wasn’t able to finish the job!”
Hatem Ben Ismail, who runs several community centers in the area and describes himself as the “go-to guy on Les Izards”, says he simply hesitates to discuss in public the mood among the youngsters he tries to help: “The situation with the young people,” he concluded, “is just too explosive.”
By the bakery where Les Izards residents said they last saw Merah hanging out, two days before his last attack, on a Jewish primary school on March 19, a group of surly young men in tracksuits and dark glasses glowered at oncoming cars.
When, on a reporting assignment this week, a Reuters photographer approached the youths, all in their late teens and early 20s, she was warned, with a stream of expletives, to leave – or have her car smashed up.
True to Reuters’ philosophy, the article goes heavy on “understanding” Merah and the seething neighborhood he is a part of, emphasizing poverty and alienation and downplaying Islamic fundamentalism.
But even that is too much for news editors worldwide. Any article that might show Muslim youths as being supportive of a murderer is anathema. it doesn’t fit the meme and must be suppressed. While typically Reuters articles can get posted at hundreds of newspapers and other media sites, this two-day old story was only picked up by two newspapers according to Google News search: The Chicago Tribune and the Jerusalem Post.