French killer may have sent Al-Jazeera footage

SARAH DiLORENZO Associated Press Published:

PARIS (AP) -- Al-Jazeera has received video footage that appears to show the deadly attacks on soldiers and a Jewish school in southwestern France, including the cries of the victims and the voice of the perpetrator. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said it should not be broadcast.

The images were contained on a USB key sent with a letter to the Paris office of the Qatar-based television company, Zied Tarrouche, the station's Paris bureau chief, said Tuesday on the French TV station BFM. The letter, written in poor French with spelling and grammar errors, claimed the killings were carried out in the name of al-Qaida.

Police traced the attacks to Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman, who was killed last week after a more than 30-hour standoff with police at his apartment building. Merah had claimed to police that he had links to al-Qaida, traveled to Afghanistan and received weapons training in the militant-riddled Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan. But authorities have questioned some of Merah's claims.

Prosecutors have said that Merah filmed all of his attacks, which began March 11 with the murder of a French soldier. Before the spree ended, two more soldiers and three Jewish children and a rabbi were killed.

Tarrouche said the images appeared to have been taken from the point of view of the killer, perhaps from a camera hung around his neck. He said they were a bit shaky but of a high technical quality.

The video had clearly been manipulated after the fact, according to Tarrouche, with religious songs and recitations of Quranic verses laid over the footage.

"You can hear gunshots at the moment of the killings. You can hear the voice of this person who has committed these assassinations. You can hear also the cries of the victims, and the voices were distorted," Tarrouche said.

In an address to police officers and judges Tuesday, Sarkozy asked that the images not be broadcast.

"I ask the managers of all television stations that might have these images not to broadcast them in any circumstances, out of respect for the victims -- out of respect for the Republic," Sarkozy said.

There was no indication that other stations have the images.

Tarrouche said his station is currently deciding whether to broadcast the video. He said he had spoken with the Paris prosecutor, whose office is leading the investigation and who explained the consequences of disseminating the images. But Tarrouche said the prosecutor said he would not prohibit the channel from "doing its work as journalists."

"We are not a sensationalist channel. We're not looking to broadcast images without weighing the risks and the consequences. That's why the management will decide today after meeting at headquarters in Qatar," Tarrouche said.

He said investigators spent Monday interviewing employees at the Paris bureau about the video. It was not immediately clear when the footage was received or who had sent it.

Al-Jazeera was frequently used early in the Iraq and Afghan wars as a conduit for militants, including Osama bin Laden, to distribute taped statements. As the Iraq war progressed, many of these tapes included gruesome killings and beheadings of Western or foreign hostages, although the station edited out some of the grisliest scenes at the moment of death.

The broadcasts drew outrage, especially from the Bush administration. Over time, most militant groups opted instead for posting such videos on their own websites, where they were not subject to outside editing standards.

A lawyer for the families of the victims killed outside the Jewish school, Patrick Klugman, warned on Tuesday that there would be legal consequences for those who disseminate the footage.

"Clearly, we'll go after them wherever they are, whatever media," he said on BFM television.

Meanwhile, Merah's father, who was estranged from his son and lives in Algeria, has reportedly said he wants to file a complaint for Mohamed's death. In his address, Sarkozy expressed outrage at that idea.

"It's with indignation that I learned that the father of the assassin of seven people -- including three soldiers and three children -- wanted to file a lawsuit against France for the death of his son," Sarkozy said. "Do we need to remind this man that his son filmed his crimes and diabolically made sure to send these despicable images to a television station?"

Sarkozy has said Merah was not part of a terror cell, but investigators are looking into whether his brother, Abdelkader, was an accomplice, and whether anyone else might have been involved.

Preliminary charges for complicity in murder and terrorism have been filed against Abdelkader, though no evidence has emerged that he took part directly in the shooting.

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Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed to this story.