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France charges siege gunman's brother as an accomplice

By Saskya Vandoorne, CNN
March 25, 2012 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Merah's brother has been charged with complicity in murder and attempted murder
  • Lawyer: A complaint filed against Merah for violent behavior had not reached trial
  • Merah's body shows more than 20 bullet wounds, a Paris prosecutor says
  • France lifts the scarlet state of alert declared in the Toulouse area earlier this week

Paris (CNN) -- The brother of a gunman killed in a siege in southwestern France has been charged with complicity in seven murders and two attempted murders and taken into custody, the Paris prosecutor's office said Sunday.

Abdelkader Merah is also being charged with conspiracy to prepare acts of terrorism and group theft, the prosecutor's office told CNN. He was arrested Tuesday night as police closed in on his brother Mohammed and faced a anti-terror judge on Sunday.

Mohammed Merah, 23, was killed Thursday at the end of a 32-hour siege of the apartment in the city of Toulouse where he was holed up. He was wanted in the killings of three French paratroopers, a rabbi and three children ages 4, 5, and 7. Two other people were seriously wounded in shootings blamed on him.

A spokeswoman for Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Saturday an autopsy showed Mohammed Merah had been struck more than 20 times by bullets.

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Most of the impacts were on the arms and legs, Elisabeth Allannic said. There were two deadly wounds on the front left temple and crossing his abdomen, she said.

Police also questioned Mohammed Merah's mother and his brother Abdelkader's girlfriend, but have released them without charge, the Paris prosecutor said.

Police union leader Christophe Crepin told French TV news channel i-tele Saturday that Abdelkader Merah and his girlfriend were moved early Saturday from Toulouse to the headquarters of the DCRI, the French counter intelligence agency, in Levallois-Perret, near Paris.

The brothers' mother, Zoulika Aziri, was released Friday night, police in Toulouse confirmed. She lives in the Toulouse suburb of Mirail, CNN affiliate BFM-TV reported previously.

Police tracked Mohammed Merah down via his mother's computer IP address, which was apparently used to respond to an ad posted by the first shooting victim, officials said.

The interior ministry said Saturday it had lifted the scarlet state of alert, the country's highest security alert level, which was put in place in the Toulouse region following the third shooting on Monday targeting a school.

France's prime minister defended the police and intelligence services Friday over their handling of the case, saying they had done well to find Mohammed Merah so quickly.

Questions have been raised as to why Mohammed Merah -- a petty criminal who was placed under surveillance by French authorities after visiting Pakistan and Afghanistan -- was not being more closely watched.

He claimed to have attended an al Qaeda training camp, according to Paris prosecutor Francois Molins, and was on the U.S. no-fly list for that reason, a U.S. intelligence official said.

Fillon told French radio station RTL that "there was no single element" that would have allowed the police to arrest Mohammed Merahbefore the killings began.

Toulouse lawyer Eric Mouton, acting for a woman named only as Aicha, to protect her identity, told CNN she filed a complaint against Mohammed Merah in June 2010 over alarming behavior Merah displayed toward her children and herself.

Aicha claimed that Mohammed Merah had beaten up her daughter, 19 at the time, and had threatened her. He also held her son, 15, against his will in a room for several hours, forcing him to watch extremely violent videos, Mouton said. Mohammed Merah denied that claim, the lawyer added.

At the time of his death, the case was still open and had not yet gone to trial because of a backlog of cases at the Toulouse public prosecutor's office, Mouton said.

Investigators say Mohammed Merah filmed the attacks in which he killed seven people.

He was tracked down by police 10 days after the first shooting on March 11.

In that attack, Imad Ibn Ziaten, a paratrooper of North African origin, arranged to meet a man in Toulouse who wanted to buy a scooter Ziaten had advertised online, the interior minister said. The victim said in the ad that he was in the military.

Four days later, two other soldiers were shot dead and another injured by a black-clad man wearing a motorcycle helmet in a shopping center in the city of Montauban, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Toulouse.

In the attack at the private Jewish school Ozar Hatorah on Monday, a man wearing a motorcycle helmet and driving a motor scooter pulled up and shot a teacher and three children -- two of them the teacher's young sons -- in the head. The other victim, the daughter of the school's director, was killed in front of her father.

Police said the same guns were used in all three attacks.

CNN's Louis Fraysse, Anna Prichard and Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report.

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