By S. M. Hali
The bloodbath in the French city of Toulouse by Mohammed Merah, a French National, who in three different incidents on 11 15 and 19 March 2012 slaughtered seven persons, has shaken the whole world. Whereas the government, people and media of Pakistan have felt deeply for the French citizens whose near and dear ones were targeted because Pakistan has sacrificed 39,000 people due to terror attacks, yet the usual practice of making Pakistan a scapegoat has left a bad taste. Instead of owning up its own negligence in warding off the carnage, the French media started accusing Pakistan as being responsible for the killings immediately after the incident, while the international media also took up the chant and started targeting its favourite punching bag: Pakistan. The usual rhetoric focused on Merah's association with Taliban, his militant training in Tribal areas and Taliban/Pakistan sponsored attacks in France reached a deafening crescendo.
Already security analysts are pointing towards lapses by the French intelligence, which missed vital clues about Mohamed Merah that might have prevented his attacks or stopped him earlier. It is noteworthy that Washington considered him dangerous enough to place on its no-fly list and French domestic intelligence was aware he was a risk, yet he was able to make a trip to Pakistan unimpeded despite being effectively escorted out of Afghanistan on his first visit to the region. What is shocking is the fact that he managed to build up an arsenal of guns in Toulouse, which were used in the macabre massacre executed by him. Questions over France's surveillance of Merah and similar suspects go to the very structure of the domestic intelligence service, the DCRI (Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence). Blinded by its myopic view to rush to label Muslims as Islamic militants, which anyway is a misnomer, the French Intelligence community neglected telltale signs. What is more pathetic is the fact that the French government has sought to portray the handling of the Merah case as a success. According to Claude Bardon, former head of France's Central Directorate of General Intelligence,
“Merah is typical of the kind of person we would have tried to recruit [as an informer]. The French Prime Minister Francois Fillon is gloating that: "Resolving a criminal case of this importance in 10 days, I believe that's practically unprecedented in the history of our country."
The fact is that Merah should have become a prime suspect immediately after the second shooting on 15 March. Two consecutive gun attacks on soldiers, with a similar weapon and modus operandi, in the same part of France, should have provided leads to the assailant. The DCRI did not question Merah about his activities in Afghanistan in 2010 until nearly a year after he returned to France. In fact, they called him to interview in October, only for Merah to tell them he was not in the country, but in Pakistan. When Merah arrived back, he duly told the intelligence service in November he had been touring the region, and provided photos of his travels. Merah, 24 years old, was a well recognized offender who was arrested/jailed on several occasions because of his criminal activities. Merah has been traveling to a number of European and Arab countries and includes traveling to Pakistan on legal documents during 2011. However, the reports do not suggest his links and training in Tribal areas. Reportedly, his travel to Pakistan and other countries was fully covered by the French authorities. Suggestively, he was not detained by the French authorities due to lack of significant signatures in terrorist activities. There is no credible evidence to substantiate his traveling to Tribal areas and association with Taliban or any other militant organization, even as per media reports; The Tehrik-e-Taliban (Pakistan) has disowned any role behind the recent act. Moreover, while certain Foreign Fighters manage to travel to Tribal areas for participation in Jihadi activities against Coalition Forces in Afghanistan, reports of about 80 French nationals obtaining militant training in Tribal areas are highly unfounded and contrary to facts. Such reporting by the reputed media further cast doubts regarding behind the scene motives, as is evident from the fact that international media even did not bother to check the credibility of the claim and the self acclaimed claimant; Mr. Ahmed Marwat before publishing the report.
It must be brought to light that contrary to the negative reports appearing in foreign media, a large number of fighters (including Western ones) have either surrendered to their countries of origin or have returned; if not killed/arrested. Additionally, as per internal reports, Pakistani and French intelligence services are working hand in gloves and enjoy the best of the cooperative relationship. Presence of such a large number of French operatives has never been reported earlier in Tribal areas. Intelligence services of both the countries are having good bilateral intelligence cooperation and have shared valuable intelligence of mutual interest. Reportedly, even in the case of Merah's travel to Pakistan, French authorities were informed and kept fully on board.
Informed sources in Pakistan opine that the media campaign has been designed with malafide objectives to malign Pakistan and blame it for providing sanctuaries to foreign fighters and blanketing the issues of homegrown problems of radicalization attributed to various reasons confronted by European countries. Merah's case is typical example, where the system failed to identify the loop holes and keep Merah under control despite his shady/dubious track record. Strangely enough, no one has posed a question about social paradigm which led a naturalized Algerian origin French citizen turn its gun on the same society which raised him.
It is farcical that Pakistan's laudable efforts in nabbing thousands of terrorists for countering the menace of terrorism to ensure security/safety in region are conveniently overlooked. Pakistan's innumerable sacrifices in GWOT are disregarded to unleash biased propaganda based to gain self serving ulterior motives. It is therefore, time for the International community to realize the realities and address the issues at home and abroad as per their merit; instead of looking for scapegoats to shun their responsibilities.