A man and a woman were arrested Tuesday in southern France on suspicion of links to an Islamic terrorist who killed Jewish schoolchildren and French paratroopers earlier this year, the Paris prosecutor’s office said Tuesday.
The arrests, the first in the case since March, may throw new light on suspicions that Mohamed Merah did not act alone in the attacks, which left seven dead and terrified France. Merah was later killed in a shootout with police.
CBS Radio News correspondent Elaine Cobbe says Tuesday’s arrests did not come as a big surprise in France — police have been looking for other suspects from the beginning of the investigation.
“It’s still simmering here, with occasional flare-ups of criticism of how it was all handled, so there’s still pressure to get to the bottom of it,” reports Cobbe.
One of Merah’s brothers, Abdelkader, is already in custody on preliminary charges of complicity in the killings. Their oldest brother is among those who have suggested a third man may have played a role.
The man arrested Tuesday was picked up in the city of Albi in southern France, and the woman — his ex-girlfriend — was arrested in Toulouse, the prosecutor’s office said. It released no other details.
An official with the prosecutor’s office said the man is the key suspect. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to discuss details of the investigation.
The Sipa news agency said the man is suspected of helping the Merah brothers obtain the scooter used in the attacks. The woman has been in custody before, so Cobbe says it is unclear whether police have new evidence, or just want to go back over her previous statements.
Merah told police during a standoff before his death that he carried out the killings of three paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi over a nine-day period in March.
Merah had traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan and was under loose surveillance by the country’s security services, which have since acknowledged lapses and promised to tighten up procedures.
While authorities initially described him as a “lone-wolf” terrorist, lawyers for victims’ families were skeptical.
“We know that he didn’t kill alone,” lawyer Patrick Klugman, who represents some victims’ families, said on LCI television. “We want everyone who helped him, who hid him….brought before justice.”
Samia Maktouf, lawyer for the father of one of the paratroopers, told Sipa that she is expecting more arrests of suspected accomplices “in France and abroad.”