Terror trial reopens wounds for French Jews


PARIS, Sept 30, 2017 (BSS/AFP) – When Abdelkader Merah goes on trial Monday over an Islamist attack in southern France in 2012, the hearings will bring back haunting memories of the bloodshed for the country’s Jews.

Merah’s trial — for allegedly helping his brother prepare for a nine-day shooting spree — is the first arising from the wave of Islamist attacks that have hit France in recent years.

Abdelkader’s brother Mohamed killed three soldiers before targeting a Jewish school in Toulouse, gunning down a teacher and three children aged three, five and eight.

The self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda militant was shot dead in a police raid two days later.

“The terrible shock of 19 March, 2012 — we still go through it every day, every time we bring the children to school or come to pick them up,” France’s chief rabbi, Haim Korsia, told AFP.

Some 300 Jewish families have since left Toulouse for Israel or other countries, according to Jewish federation CRIF — adding to the estimated 20,000 who emigrated from 2014-2015, spurred by fears over anti-Semitism.

Jerome Fourquet, head of opinion at pollster Ifop who wrote a study on the exodus, said the attack on Ozar Hatorah School was the “trigger event” for the mass departures.

And while the emigration and reports of anti-Semitic abuse have both since slowed, Europe’s biggest Jewish community — numbering half a million people — “remains on edge”, he said.

– Nicknamed ‘Bin Laden’ –

Abdelkader Merah, 35, has been charged with complicity in terrorism, accused of knowingly helping his younger brother with preparations for one of the deadliest attacks against French Jews since World War II.

He helped him steal the scooter used for the three separate shootings.

Another suspect, 34-year-old Fettah Malki, will also go on trial in Paris for giving Merah a bulletproof jacket, an Uzi submachine gun, and the ammunition he unloaded on his victims.

Neither denies giving Merah the items, but both insist they were unaware of his intentions.

Abdelkader faces a possible life sentence, and Malki 20 years behind bars.

Like his brother, Abdelkader — nicknamed “Bin Laden” in the neighbourhood — was known to intelligence services for his ties to radical Islamists in Toulouse.

Prosecutors claim he shared his brother’s ideology, and the two men were repeatedly in contact in the days before the killings.

– Lingering worries –

Simon Cohen, a lawyer representing 160 civil parties including the school, said the trial “comes at a historic moment where we are not finished with the wave of jihadist terrorism”.

Merah’s shooting spree preceded a string of attacks from 2015 in France that left 239 people dead.

They include four killed by an Islamic State gunman at a kosher supermarket in Paris in January 2015, two days after the attack at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

After that, 10,000 troops were deployed across France under an anti-terrorism operation known as Sentinelle, guarding sensitive sites including synagogues and Jewish schools.

This is credited with contributing to a 58.5 percent drop in reports of anti-Semitic attacks in 2016 compared to a year earlier.

Yet French Jews continue to worry over their security.

There was outrage over the murder of a Jewish woman in April, pushed from a third-floor window by a Muslim neighbour, and over an attack on a Jewish family in their home in the capital’s suburbs earlier this month.

Chief rabbi Korsia said Jews were comforted by the outpouring of solidarity that followed the Charlie Hebdo and supermarket attacks, with 3.7 million taking to the streets of France against terrorism.

But he added that many still feel a lack of support.

“There is a kind of keeping us at a distance, an indifference,” he said.

“At demonstrations, at ceremonies, we find ourselves very alone.”