Toulouse officials block gunman's funeral

Toulouse officials block gunman's funeral

The funeral of the gunman who killed seven people has been delayed for 24 hours after the mayor of Toulouse said burying him in the city would be "inappropriate".

The body of Mohamed Merah was due to be flown to Algeria for burial earlier but authorities there said they did not want to take his remains as his Algerian-born father wanted.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy said: "Let him be buried, and let's not create a debate about this."

The 23-year-old's father had said he wanted his son buried in a family plot in the Medea region of Algeria, a solution that seemed to satisfy French officials.

Merah's body was brought to the Toulouse airport today and his mother had been expecting to accompany it to Algiers.

But Abdallah Zekri of the French Muslim Council, or CFCM, said Algerian authorities refused for "reasons of public order". Zekri had been liaising with authorities at the Algerian consulate in Toulouse.

Instead, Zekir said Merah would be buried later today at the Muslim cemetery in the Toulouse neighbourhood of Cornebarrieu.

But then the Toulouse mayor objected, and asked authorities in the central government in Paris to delay the burial another 24 hours.

"After Algeria's refusal at the last minute to accept the body of Mohamed Merah, (Toulouse Mayor) Pierre Cohen feels that his interment on the territory of the city of Toulouse is not appropriate," the mayor's office said in a statement.

Police say Merah filmed himself killing three schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers in a spate of attacks earlier this month.

Merah, who espoused radical Islam and said he had links to al-Qaida, was shot in the head after a stand-off with police last week in Toulouse.

His brother is in custody on suspected complicity and police are looking for a potential third man who might have helped.

Merah's brother has been handed preliminary charges of alleged complicity in preparing the killings, though his lawyer insists that Abdelkader Merah had no idea what his brother was plotting.

Abdelkader Merah told investigators that a third man helped the Merah brothers steal a motorbike used later in the killings, police said.

Police have found a car abandoned in a car parking space in a village in southern France, Saint-Papoul, that belongs to a man registered as living at the same Toulouse address as Mohamed Merah, police officials said.

It is unclear whether the car owner and the alleged motorbike thief are the same person.

The shootings were the worst terrorist attacks in France since the 1990s and have revived concerns about homegrown Islamist radicals carrying out violence. Merah travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan and said he received weapons training there.

French Muslims have worried about a backlash after Merah's attacks, and French leaders have urged the public not to equate Islam with terrorism.

But concerns about radical Islam are high, and the government today banned a string of international Muslim clerics from entering France for a conference of a fundamentalist Islamic group.

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