French press divided over security role on Merah

Papers are questioning the role of security services
Image caption Some papers questioned why the security services did not delay the assault further

Some French newspapers have begun to question the role of the security services after the suspected killer of three soldiers, a rabbi and three children was shot dead by police in Toulouse. But others caution against lecturing the police.

The front-page headline in the centre-left Liberation under a photo of Interior Minister Claude Gueant simply reads "Grey areas". It is accompanied by a series of questions regarding the investigation, the minister's role and the raid that led to Mohammed Merah's death.

The regional daily La Nouvelle Republique carries the front-page banner headline "Controversy already" above a photo of a group of masked anti-terror police officers clad in black.

But the centre-right Le Figaro expresses a different sentiment with the headline "Mission accomplished" splashed across a similar photo.

Call for transparency

Liberation raises seven questions on its front page: Did the investigation get off the ground sufficiently quickly? Were there delays in computer-based identification? Should the case not have been passed on to the anti-terrorism authorities from the start? Why was Merah no longer under surveillance? Which role did Claude Gueant play in Toulouse? Why did the first assault fail? Why was Mohammed Merah killed?

The paper's editorial, by Nicolas Demorand, asks why the intelligence services "underestimated a person's potential to do harm when they actually knew him" and whether surrounding the suspect was the right strategy. "National unity, which has been proclaimed and respected, must have total transparency as its corollary," the daily says.

Jean-Michel Helvig, in the regional daily La Republique des Pyrenees, believes there is little merit in criticising the intelligence services, but he adds that "it would be more pertinent to ask why the 'political' order to intervene [on Thursday] morning was given when a few more hours would no doubt have ensured that the maniac was truly physically exhausted".

A commentary by Bernard Le Solleu in the best-selling Ouest-France suggests President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed new anti-terrorism measures because he "sensed the danger" coming from suggestions that the intelligence agencies had lowered their guard.

Christophe Bonnefoy, in the regional daily Le Journal de la Haute-Marne, says that any failing on the part of the intelligence services "will of course have to be identified", but he adds that "it would be totally inappropriate to mix everything up and to use the terrible events of the last few days to transform them into base electoral arguments".

Reasons to "keep quiet"

Le Figaro leads the camp of those who argue against "lecturing" the security services on how to do their job.

In a front-page editorial, Yves Threard says that "a lone killer is always more difficult to apprehend than a criminal ring", and that "the timing of elite police interventions is not subject to the same requirements as that of the media".

He criticises the left for questioning the work of the police when they "use every opportunity" to undermine that work by accusing the police of infringing liberties and discriminating on the grounds of race.

Jean Levallois, in the regional daily La Presse de la Manche, shares that view. "When you have the expertise, you can always debate the strengths and weaknesses of an operation of this kind. When you do not have that expertise, it is better to keep quiet," he says.

"This all the more since those who are the most critical are the same who spend most of the year railing against the infringement of liberties, police powers and stop and search measures deemed to be excessive and who then judge without batting an eyelid that Mohammed Merah should have been neutralised before he could act," he adds.

A commentary by Dominique Quinio in the Catholic daily La Croix warns against jumping to conclusions. Questions over Merah's surveillance and the time it took to identify him "should be formulated cautiously because with hindsight and far away from the event it is all too easy to make judgments on what should have been done", Quinio says.

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