Al-Jazeera pledges not to screen gunman's video

Mohammed Merah's deadly gun rampages will not be screened by Al-Jazeera. Photo / FRANCE 2
Mohammed Merah's deadly gun rampages will not be screened by Al-Jazeera. Photo / FRANCE 2

An angry France won a pledge from the Al-Jazeera news channel not to air a video shot by an Islamist extremist during a murderous shooting spree targeting soldiers and Jewish children.

President Nicolas Sarkozy demanded that the channel not broadcast the video sent to its Paris bureau, which includes graphic footage shot by Mohamed Merah during attacks this month in southern France that left seven people dead.

Sarkozy warned that Paris would jam the signal of any broadcaster that tried to air the video.

French officials also reacted with fury to threats from Merah's Algerian father to sue Paris over the way in which the gunman was slain in a gunbattle with police last Thursday at the end of a 32-hour siege of his Toulouse flat.

And police said they believed the Al-Qaeda inspired gunman, branded a "monster'', may have had one or more accomplices who possibly sent the footage to Al-Jazeera and earlier helped him steal the scooter used in the attacks.

"In accordance with Al-Jazeera's code of ethics, given the video does not add any information that is not already in the public domain, its news channels will not be broadcasting any of its contents,'' the Qatar-based network said.

The pan-Arab channel, which once owed much of its fame outside the Arab world to airing recordings of Al-Qaeda's late chief, Osama bin Laden, said it had declined "numerous requests from media outlets for copies of the video.''

Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, had previously boasted of filming his killings and witnesses had told police that he appeared to be wearing a video camera in a chest harness during the shootings.

He was not wearing the device during his final fatal shootout, but police said they had found the Go-Pro style camera in a bag he had given to a friend.

Al-Jazeera's Paris bureau chief, Zied Tarrouche, said the channel received the videos on a USB memory key, along with a letter in poorly written French that claimed the attacks in the name of Al-Qaeda.

Tarrouche said the videos showed the attacks in chronological order and had been edited into a montage.

"There was a mixture of religious music and chants, lectures, and recitals of verses from the Koran,'' he said.

Leading French television networks all said they would also not broadcast the videos if they became available.

Latifa Ibn Ziaten, the mother of Imed Ibn Ziaten, the first of three French paratroopers gunned down by Merah, told AFP she was relieved the footage would not be shown.

"This is good, it is the right decision, the only decision to take,'' she told AFP by telephone from Morocco. "I am relieved because this was about my son's honour. I don't want my son to be dirtied.''

Sarkozy had called on all channels not to broadcast the footage "under any pretext, out of respect for the victims and respect for the republic.''

"I am glad that the whole French and international media world believes that to broadcast these images would be an insult to the memory of children,'' Sarkozy said after Al-Jazeera promised not to air the footage.

"Al-Jazeera took a reasonable decision and I warn that if any channel belonging to or close to institutions spreading terrorist ideas gets their hands on it we will not hesitate to do what we can to stop their signal.''

The French leader - who is running for re-election in a campaign already marked by fierce debate on security and the integration of Muslims - also lashed out at Merah's father, Mohamed Benalel Merah, for his lawsuit threat.

"It is with indignation that I learned that the father of the killer of seven people... wants to file a suit against France for the death of his son,'' Sarkozy said.

And Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said: "If I were the father of such a monster, I would shut my mouth in shame.''

The father had told AFP on Monday he would sue French authorities because they "had the means to take my son alive... they preferred to kill him.''

When police surrounded Merah's Toulouse apartment last week, the gunman fought off an initial assault and then, in a conversation with a police negotiator, claimed responsibility for all three attacks.

He shot dead three soldiers in two separate attacks in Toulouse and nearby Montauban on March 11 and 15.

Last Monday he opened fire at a Jewish school in Toulouse, killing a 30-year-old teacher, his sons aged five and four, and a seven-year-old girl.

On Sunday, the authorities charged the gunman's brother, 29-year-old Abdelkader Merah, with complicity in the attacks but he denied any involvement.

Abdelkader Merah was charged with helping his sibling steal the powerful Yamaha scooter used in the shootings and police said Tuesday they were seeking a third person who may have been involved in the theft.

Police also said an accomplice may have been involved in mailing the videos to Al-Jazeera.

- AFP

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