Many questions raised over Toulouse killings
France's prime minister on Friday rejected accusations his government could have prevented the multiple murders by an Islamic militant who was supposedly being watched by intelligence services.
Francois Fillon said security officials knew Mohamed Merah, who died in a hail of police bullets, was a radical Islamist who had visited Afghanistan but insisted there was no reason to suspect he was planning an atrocity.
The intelligence services "did their job perfectly well. They identified Mohamed Merah when he made his trips," he told French radio.
Intelligence agents "watched him long enough to come to the conclusion that there was no element, no indication, that this was a dangerous man who would one day pass from words to acts," said Fillon.
The prime minister's comments came as investigators were trying to establish whether Merah had worked alone or with accomplices before he carried out the murders of three Jewish children, a trainee rabbi and three soldiers.
The killings shocked France, which is home to western Europe's largest Jewish and Muslim communities, and brought the issues of security and integration to the heart of the country's presidential election campaign.
Police on Friday prolonged the detention of the mother and brother of the self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda member who said he carried out his crimes to avenge Palestinian children and punish France for sending troops to Afghanistan.
The girlfriend of Merah's brother was also kept in detention, a legal source said. All three were detained as police on Wednesday surrounded 23-year-old Merah in his apartment in the southwestern city of Toulouse.
Police and prosecution officials have said that Merah's brother, Abdelkader Merah, is himself a radical Islamist, and that traces of what could be an explosive material were found in his car.
Prosecutors said the first murder in Merah's spree was committed after he contacted his victim, a 30-year-old army officer, using his mother's computer.
A US intelligence official said that Merah, a French citizen of Algerian origin, had been on America's "no-fly" list that banned him from boarding flights to or from the country.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is seeking re-election in May, was under growing pressure Friday from the media and opposition politicians to explain why Merah had not been prevented from carrying out his grisly murders.
One veteran police officer also questioned why the gunman was not taken alive during Thursday's siege and final assault in Toulouse.
"How come the police's best unit did not manage to arrest a man all alone?" demanded Christian Prouteau, who founded the GIGN -- another of France's elite units, drawn from the national police's rivals in the gendarmerie.
Officers from the RAID unit moved in Thursday morning after a 32-hour siege, killing Merah as he tried to shoot his way out of his apartment.
Merah's killings had interrupted the campaign for France's presidential vote, but Sarkozy has resumed his re-election bid hoping his reputation as a crime fighter will carry the day.
He has been trailing his Socialist rival Francois Hollande in opinion polls for months, but the shocking murders and the killer's violent end have stirred up the campaign just as he was narrowing the gap.
Polls carried out before the crisis showed French voters trust Sarkozy more on security and international affairs, while Hollande gets their vote if they care more about jobs, household incomes or social provision.
Logically, therefore, Sarkozy should expect a bump in the polls as a result of his national leadership during a time of crisis involving a foreign-trained Islamist and a massive police murder manhunt.
In a televised address Thursday, he vowed to crack down on extremism, saying he wanted legal action against people who regularly consulted jihadist websites or travelled abroad for indoctrination.
Hollande, at a campaign rally late Thursday, asked about possible failings in the surveillance of Merah and said that now "questions will have to be put."
Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen said Sarkozy's government had surrendered the poor suburbs of France's cities over to Islamic radicals and denounced its failure to have prevented Merah's murders.
Friday's edition of the Communist daily L'Humanite called for full disclosure over how closely France's intelligence services had followed Merat's activities in the run-up to his attacks.
Left-leaning Liberation asked if political considerations had influenced how police had handled the crisis.
An Al-Qaeda linked group, Jund al-Khilafah, has claimed responsibility on jihadist websites for the killings.