After the initial horror of the massacre last week in Toulouse, France subsided, many began to ask: Could it have been prevented? Is there any way we could have stopped Mohamed Merah, the French citizen later killed in a gun battle with police, from murdering a rabbi, his two young sons, and an eight-year old girl?
The more we learn about Merah, the more it’s clear that there were many warning signs that he was on a path to disaster. As a teenager, Merah was detained 18 times by police before serving a year and a half in prison. French authorities speculate that he got involved in radical Islam during this time.
After his release from prison, Merah traveled to Afghanistan, where he was stopped by American forces in an area known as a Taliban stronghold and was subsequently banned from travel to the U.S. A year later he traveled to the area of Pakistan known as Waziristan, where he claimed he trained with al-Qaeda operatives.
A week before the massacre at the Jewish school, Merah is believed to have killed three French paratroopers. Perhaps the most disturbing detail about Merah’s journey is that he strapped a video camera to his body and took footage of his final shooting sprees, later posting these videos online so all could see his hate-filled handiwork.
When the 32-hour standoff that resulted in Merah’s death ended, authorities discovered at least eight guns in Merah’s high-powered arsenal, including an assault rifle, an Uzi machine pistol, and a Kalashnikov. Questions have already been raised about how someone with known ties to terrorist organizations was allowed to purchase such weapons.
Merah’s case shows why Israel and the Jewish people must take security seriously. Israel is the target of violence on a near-daily basis — like the recent round of rocket attacks from Gaza. Synagogues around the world are often targeted. My grandchildren’s school, like countless Jewish schools and synagogues around the U.S., has increased security in recent days in response to the Toulouse massacre. This, sadly, is the reality that Israelis, and Jewish people around the world, live with every day.
At The Fellowship, we take the need for security very seriously too. For years, we’ve been monitoring the rise in anti-Semitism and threats to Jews and Jewish communities worldwide and have responded by providing funds for security to 30 Jewish institutions in areas where the danger is particularly great, as well as building and renovating thousands of bomb shelters throughout Israel, providing emergency kits, and much more. It is an ongoing effort — and one that will continue until the ages-old sickness of anti-Semitism is a thing of the past.
Some suggest that Israel’s concerns about security are overblown. Israel’s self-defense measures are cast as aggression and are roundly condemned. Too many people ignore the fact that Israel is surrounded by enemies. They forget that there are many people who hate Jews simply because they are Jews, whose ideology drives them to murder Jews wherever and whenever they can. It is a hard truth, but one that must be accepted and addressed. The events in Toulouse, and four fresh graves in Jerusalem, remind us of what awaits if we don’t.