Sarkozy joins row over French gunman's burial

President says Mohammed Merah should be buried in France after Toulouse mayor and Algeria refuse body for funeral.

    Sarkozy joins row over French gunman's burial
    Mohamed Benalel Merah, the gunman's father, has said he wants him buried in the Algerian village of Bezzaz [EPA]

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for the gunman who killed several people this month to be buried quickly in France without argument, after both his hometown and ancestral homeland reportedly refused his remains.

    The burial of Mohammed Merah, the al-Qaeda inspired gunman who killed seven people before he was shot last week, was delayed for 24-hours on Thursday, until an agreement could be reached with local authorities.

    "He was French. Let him be buried and let's not have any arguments about it," Sarkozy told BFMTV news channel, the AFP news agency reported on Thursday.

    Merah - a Frenchman of Algerian descent - had been due to be buried at the Cornebarrieu cemetery, on the outskirts of his hometown Toulouse, after Algeria reportedly rejected his body on Thursday.

    But Toulouse's Socialist mayor Pierre Cohen called for the burial to be delayed for 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.

    "It really seems that no one wants the body of Mohammed Merah," said Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from Paris.

    "Algeria has said that it didn't want it and now it appears that the mayor of Toulouse is saying 'not in my backyard'.

    "We understand he's said that it would be inappropriate, undesirable for the body of Mohammed Merah to be buried so close to the places where he carried out the shootings.

    "Certainly members of the Jewish community in Toulouse say that it would be really inappropriate for a potential shrine to the gunman to be so close to the place where he carried out those shootings," our correspondent added.

    'Security reasons'

    Family members had earlier said that Merah's body was to be flown to Algeria on Thursday for burial.

    "Algeria has nothing to do with this case, and we do not understand why some circles in France are trying to involve us"

    - Algerian government source

    But Algerian authorities were against the move, an Algerian government source and an official at a top French mosque said on Thursday.

    "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," said Abdallah Zekri, an adviser to the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris.

    Merah's father wanted him buried in the Algerian village of Bezzaz, but "the mayor of Bezzaz gave a negative response," Zekri added.

    An Algerian government source confirmed to the Reuters news agency that its government had refused to admit Merah's body for burial in his home village.

    "Algeria has nothing to do with this case, and we do not understand why some circles in France are trying to involve us in it.

    "This is why we took the decision to not admit the body for now in Algeria," said the source, who asked not to be named. "This is a temporary decision."

    On Wednesday, Merah's father, Mohamed Benalel Merah, told Reuters that transferring the required paperwork from the
    consulate in Toulouse to the Algerian region of Medea, where Bezzaz is located, meant it could take some time before the body could be flown there.

    Merah, 23, who said he was inspired by al-Qaeda, confessed during the police standoff to having shot dead three soldiers, a rabbi and three Jewish children at point-blank range in a spate of attacks that shook France a month from a presidential election.

    Merah's body is currently at a hospital morgue in Toulouse and prosecutors are investigating Abdelkader, his elder brother, for possible complicity in the case.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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