Algeria refuses to take Toulouse gunman’s body
President Nicolas Sarkozy called Thursday for gunman Mohamed Merah to be buried quickly in France without argument after both his hometown and ancestral homeland refused his remains.
Merah, who killed seven people before he was shot last week, had been due to be buried in Toulouse after Algeria rejected his body, but the mayor then decided a funeral in the city of his birth would be "inappropriate".
"He was French. Let him be buried and let's not have any arguments about it," Sarkozy told BFMTV news channel in a bid to bring and end to a tragic episode that eclipsed an increasingly tight presidential election campaign.
"I've said what I think of Mohamed Merah, who behaved in a monstrous way," Sarkozy said of the Al-Qaeda-inspired gunman shot dead by police at his Toulouse flat on March 22.
Sarkozy was speaking after Toulouse's Socialist mayor Pierre Cohen called for Merah's burial at the southwestern city's Cornebarrieu cemetery to be delayed a day pending a decision from the relevant authorities on whether it should go ahead.
"Following Algeria's last minute refusal to accept Mohamed Merah's body, Pierre Cohen feels that his burial within the city of Toulouse is inappropriate. So he has asked the regional prefect to delay the burial 24 hours," city hall said.
Family members had said earlier the body of 23-year-old Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian descent, was to be flown to Algeria on Thursday for burial.
But an Islamic official who has been assisting the family, Abdallah Zekri of the French Muslim Council, said Merah's relatives had instead asked him to arrange a funeral in the southwestern city of Toulouse.
"The family has asked me to organise a funeral in France within 24 hours, in agreement with the authorities, because Algeria refused to accept Mohamed Merah's body for security reasons," Zekri said in Toulouse.
"The family is disappointed, but at the same time it understands," Zekri said.
Merah, branded a "monster" by French leaders after the killing of three Jewish children and a teacher and three French paratroopers, died in a hail of police bullets last Thursday after a 32-hour siege on his Toulouse flat.
Zekri said he believed the body would be buried in an anonymous grave and that "the family wants a burial that is the most simple and discreet as possible".
Merah's parents had asked for his body to be buried in Algeria, with his mother Zoulhika Aziri saying she feared his grave would be "vandalised" in France.
His father, Mohamed Benalal Merah, has lashed out at French authorities over his son's death and threatened to sue France, drawing sharp criticism from French officials.
He said in Algeria that he regretted not being able to attend the funeral.
"It was written that he would not be buried in Algeria," he said. "It is unfortunate that I will not be able to attend, I have neither enough time nor a special plane to take me to Toulouse."
He refused to comment on Algeria's refusal to accept the body, saying: "I do not know the laws."
In a joint statement meanwhile, the foreign and interior ministries said France was refusing entry to four prominent Muslim preachers.
"These people's positions and statements calling for hatred and violence seriously damage republican principles and, in the current context, represent a serious threat to public order," the statement said.
The ban applies to Saudi clerics Ayed Bin Abdallah al-Qarni and Abdallah Basfar, Egyptian cleric Safwat al-Hijazi and former mufti of Jerusalem Akrama Sabri who had been due to attend a meeting next week of the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF).
The statement said France also "regrets" that Swiss intellectual Tariq Ramadan had been invited to the conference, while preachers Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Mahmud al-Masri had decided not to attend.
Sarkozy said on Monday that Qaradawi, 86, an influential Qatar-based Sunni Muslim cleric, was not welcome in France.