French gunman's brother, girlfriend whisked to Paris intelligence HQ

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The brother of an al Qaeda-inspired gunman who killed seven people was taken to Paris on Saturday for further questioning about the massacre that has raised questions about national security four weeks from a French presidential election.

Abdelkader Merah, elder brother of Mohamed Merah, who died in a hail of gunfire on Thursday as he jumped from his apartment window in Toulouse, was taken by car from police barracks in the southwestern city for transfer to the capital, along with his girlfriend, a judicial source said.

Both people were arrested on Tuesday as negotiators sought their help trying to persuade Merah to turn himself in. Merah's mother, who was also arrested on the same day, was released on Saturday, according to the source.

Merah, 23, was shot dead by a sniper after a gun battle with police that ended a more than 30-hour siege at his apartment during which he admitted killing three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three soldiers in three separate attacks.

Abdelkader and his girlfriend, whose name was not given, were being transferred to a detention centre at the headquarters of the DCRI domestic intelligence agency in Paris and would be brought before a judge to decide whether there are grounds for opening legal proceedings over possible links with Merah's attacks, another source said on Friday.

Police have found explosives in a car Abdelkader owned, according to the public prosecutor leading the case. He was already known to security services for having helped smuggle jihadist militants into Iraq in 2007.

DCRI head Bernard Squarcini told the daily Le Monde on Friday that there was no evidence Merah belonged to any radical Islamist network and he appeared to have turned fanatic alone.

Yet investigators are still trying to establish whether the young Frenchman of Algerian extraction had any logistical or ideological support or was a true ‘lone wolf’.

Merah's brother, and a sister, were known to have studied the Quran in Egypt in 2010 and French police had in the past found links between them and a radical Islamist group based in southern France led by a Syrian-born Frenchman dubbed ‘The White Emir’ by French media because of his fair hair and beard.

The shootings shifted the focus of political debate away from France's economic woes and played to the strengths of President Nicolas Sarkozy as he fights an uphill battle for re-election in a two-round vote in April and May.

Polls show that about two-thirds of voters approved of his handling of a crisis that reduced his challengers, chief among them Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande, to the role of bystander.

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