France gunman's mother released

France gunman's mother released

The mother of the Frenchman accused of killing seven people in a shooting rampage has been released without charge, a judicial official said today.

The official says Zoulika Aziri was released late yesterday.

Aziri’s son Mohamed Merah is blamed for a series of deadly shootings which have shocked France and galvanised the country’s presidential race.

Merah, who claimed allegiance to al-Qaida, died in a hail of gunfire Thursday after a dramatic 32-hour-long stand-off with law enforcement.

Police are investigating whether Merah acted alone, and his older brother Abdelkader Merah, along with Abdelkader’s girlfriend, remain in police custody in Paris.

Police union spokesman Michel Crepin told reporters that detectives have already gathered evidence to suggest that Abdelkader may have helped his brother carry out the shootings.

Asked what evidence police had, Crepin said there was evidence to suggest that Abdelkader Merah had “furnished means (and) worked as an accomplice”.

Crepin refused to comment further, saying it was for a judge to decide what charges, if any, to bring.

Under French law if either of the two continue to be held beyond the weekend, preliminary charges will have to be filed.

Abdelkader had already come under police radar, according to officials. He was questioned several years ago about alleged links to a network sending youths from the Toulouse area to Iraq, but no action was brought against him at the time.

Zoulika Aziri’s lawyer, Jean-Yves Gougnaud, told reporters in the southern French city of Toulouse that Aziri’s world had been “turned upside down”.

“She is devastated,” he told reporters after her release. “At no time could she have imagined that her son was the one who did it.”

At one point during the stand-off police took Merah’s mother to the scene, but she refused to urge her son to surrender, officials said.

Merah had filmed himself carrying out attacks in southern France that began on March 11 and killed three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three French paratroopers with close-range shots to the head, prosecutors say. Another Jewish student and a paratrooper were wounded, and five police officers were injured trying to dislodge Merah from the apartment.

Key questions for investigators include how Merah, described by French intelligence boss Ange Mancini as “a little failure from the suburbs,” was able to amass an arsenal of weapons – including an Uzi sub-machine-gun – and rent a car, despite having no clear source of income.

Mancini told French broadcaster BFMTV that Merah told police during the siege that he bought the weapons using money he acquired through break-ins and hold-ups.

Mancini said he believed that Merah was telling the truth about that, but suggested that forensic police would be examining the guns for clues as to where Merah got them.

“The weapons, too, will talk,” Mancini said.

In Toulouse, where Merah held out in an apartment building for more than a day against one of France’s most elite police units, residents were beginning to return home to inspect the damage.

Video footage shot by police of the inside of Merah’s apartment showed a shattered three-room residence strewn with debris from the fighting and gaping bullet holes in the walls.

Building resident Farida Bohama was quoted by France’s Le Figaro newspaper as saying nothing would ever be the same.

“I really want to move,” she said.

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