I watched in horror as gunshots rang out at the scene of the siege in Toulouse where a lone gunman was holed up in a house surrounded by police for nearly 33hours. The sound of automatic gunfire rattled through the quiet suburb of the French city as police tried to arrest the gunman on suspicion of the horrific murders of 7 people including children in the past few days. In the end, the gunman, Mohammed Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent, died from a sniper bullet as he continued to shoot ferociously at the police, who stormed his apartment.
I breathed a sigh of relief on reports of his death, that at least Toulouse can rest and come to terms with the huge tragedy that has befallen them, when on Monday, Merah shot dead 4 people at a Jewish school, 3 of them little children. Also at the news of his death, I pondered over the fact that, to Merah's fellow radicals, he might be viewed as a hero of some kind. He died with a gun in his hand and no remorse whatsoever for what he had done. In fact on Twitter, someone likened him to Tony Montana in the 1980s gangster movie Scarface, who died after an intense firefight with the police at his home. It saddens me that he wasn't captured alive, but I am sure he wouldn't give himself up for arrest either. Whichever way, he wasn't going to go down without a fight.
Some security analysts now wonder whether this is the beginning of a new breed of terror in the West. Known as lone-wolf attacks, they are planned and carried out by one individual and are extremely difficult to detect/combat by authorities. Mohammed Merah was known to have links to al-Qaeda and had received terror training in Afghanistan, but current reports suggest he was gradually radicalised, probably while in prison and he later saw himself as a Mujahideen. In his twisted ideology, he claims to be avenging the deaths of Palestinian children by brutally killing four people, three of them children, in a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday. He earlier killed three French soldiers because, as he said, of France's involvement in Afghanistan. He planned to kill more, and expressed his regrets at not being able to. Last year in Norway, Andrea Brevik killed more than 77 people on Utoya Island, many of them school children, in another tragic consequence of a twisted logic. Brevik claimed he commited his crimes to protect Europe from being over-run by Muslims.
The unfortunate message coming out of these despicable crimes like Merah and Brevik is that one man is capable of planning and unleashing unspeakable horror on a people, city or country. (See this CNN article, French attacks could inspire next generation of terrorists). Terror cells may now concentrate their efforts on brainwashing young westerners to carry out brutal lone-wolf attacks like these. And when I say terror cells, I do not mean just Jihadist cells, but also far-right groups like the one Brevik belonged to. Europe seems to be torn between two faces of terror, Brevik-types on the one hand, and Merah-types on the other. Both faces capable of evil on an unimaginable scale.