Family of French gunman sue over his death

June 11, 2012 - 11:37 AM

PARIS (AP) — The family of a French gunman who targeted a Jewish school and was later shot dead by police filed a lawsuit Monday suggesting he was effectively murdered.

Prosecutors say Mohamed Merah was a radical Islamist who killed three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three French paratroopers in a rampage in March that shocked the country. Merah died after a 32-hour standoff at his apartment in the southern city of Toulouse.

Algerian lawyer Zahia Mokhtari and French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre filed the lawsuit in the main Paris courthouse Monday alleging "murder with aggravating circumstances."

Coutant-Peyre says the suit does not name anyone specifically, but suggested that the family is accusing the elite RAID police force of intentionally killing Merah instead of capturing him alive and letting him speak out.

In April, lawyer Mokhtari told French BFM television that she would file a lawsuit against the RAID force, and that she had two videos of Merah that contradict the police narrative of what happened.

"In these videos, he says, 'I am innocent. Why are you killing me? I didn't do anything,'" she said in April. Mokhtari did not detail how she got the videos.

On Monday, Coutant-Peyre said the Merah family lawyers will offer the videos to prosecutors if asked. She said they have "serious evidence" backing up their lawsuit, but would not elaborate.

"You have 300 or 400 over-armed people, and one guy alone in his apartment, closed in," Coutant-Peyre said.

Prosecutors say Merah spoke at length with negotiators from the RAID force throughout the standoff in his apartment, and told officers where to find a video he took of the crime spree. Police said Merah was shot in the head and killed as he jumped out a window, guns blazing.

It is now up to prosecutors to decide whether to pursue an investigation or dismiss the Merah family's lawsuit.

Merah's brother is in custody after being handed preliminary charges of alleged complicity in preparing the killings.

The shootings at the Jewish school and of the paratroopers were the worst terrorist attacks in France since the 1990s and have revived concerns about violence by homegrown Islamist radicals. Merah traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan and said he received weapons training there.

Coutant-Peyre is also the lawyer for notorious Venezuelan-born terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known as Carlos the Jackal. Ramirez is serving a life sentence in a French prison.