No leads on French shooter in Afghanistan, Pakistan

Officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan told AFP on Thursday that they could not immediately trace the Toulouse gunman as having visited either country or held by US-led forces as announced in France.

French prosecutor Francois Molins said Mohamed Merah claimed to have been trained by Al-Qaeda in Waziristan, the most notorious hotbed of Islamist militancy on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Molins said the suspect went to the region twice and was on one occasion arrested by Afghan police and handed over to US troops, who put him on a flight back to France.

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But in Kabul, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings, spokesman for NATO's US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said: "As of now I have no information on him being in ISAF or US custody.

"We are working to ascertain the details of his activities, to include if he was detained, during his suspected time in Afghanistan."

The governor in Kandahar -- the Taliban's birthplace where French officials said Merah was arrested in 2010 -- also claimed no Frenchman had been arrested there for six years, but also conceded police do not keep records.

In Pakistan, security officials also denied any trace of Merah, although they pointed out there were ways for would-be Islamist militants to slip across the country's porous borders undetected.

"People like Merah use different channels to sneak into Pakistan. These are the kind of channels, which their networks identify as safe and risk free," one senior Pakistani security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

He said Pakistan "was not ruling out" that Merah was trained in Waziristan or elsewhere in the semi-autonomous Afghan border areas, but said its security agencies were not aware of his presence in the country.

"We are talking to French authorities on the issue and looking into his possible connections to Al-Qaeda and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan but it is not possible at the moment to go into the specifics," he said.

Merah, a self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda militant who French officials say made two trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan, was shot dead in an assault on his flat on Thursday. He was suspected of killing seven people in southern France.

by Julia Zappei © 2012 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Mar 22, 2012