Mohamed Merah Among 400 in EU Trained by AL Qaeda
The serial killer who died after a 32-hour standoff with French police was one of about 400 al Qaeda-trained extremists in the European Union, the bloc's top antiterrorism expert estimated Thursday.
Twenty-three-year-old Mohamed Merah, a French national of Algerian origin, claimed he had made contact with al Qaeda on trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan before embarking upon a deadly shooting spree around Toulouse.
"It is a phenomenon of 'lone wolves,' as we call them," EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove said. "We can estimate that they are in the 400s all across Europe."
Like Merah - who also had a criminal record - all such individuals "are obviously monitored" by European intelligence services, de Kerchove said.
Most are in "Germany, France, Britain, maybe also Belgium, and in all other EU countries to a much lesser extent," he said.
So-called lone wolves have become "more and more frequent" as "core" al Qaeda structures in Europe "have been weakened over the past three-four years," the Belgian official added.
Commenting on appropriate countermeasures, de Kerchove suggested extending across the EU legislation already enforced in Germany and Austria that criminalizes anyone who travels abroad to attend terrorist indoctrination camps.
Concluding ongoing negotiations on an EU-wide system to collect air passenger name records would also help, de Kerchove said.