The IP address of a computer used to view a motorbike sales ad posted by an early victim of the Toulouse gunman played a vital role in narrowing down Mohamed Merah as the main suspect in a series of attacks that have horrified France, it has emerged.
French soldier Imad Ibn-Ziaten posted a video of the motorbike he wanted to sell online. The paratrooper was killed on 11 March after he invited someone who posed as a prospective buyer to his house.
Le Monde reports (Google translation here) that the ad was viewed by about 500 people. Cyber police narrowed down the list of likely suspects to those who lived in and around Toulouse in south-west France. This search was intensified after Ibn-Ziaten's assassination was linked to the slaughter of three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday, 19 March.
In addition, Le Monde added, a motorcycle dealer had reported a suspicious conversation with someone who wanted to know whether it was possible to remove an anti-theft tracking device from a Yamaha scooter just days before the vehicle was stolen on 6 March and before the first attacks against French soldiers. The twin strands of evidence allowed police to compile a shortlist of suspects.
Merah was already under surveillance by French authorities and the use of an IP address, which was linked to his brother's house, to view Ibn-Ziaten's motorcycle video made him a prime suspect in the case.
In the early hours of Wednesday a French anti-terrorist unit surrounded a block of flats where the reportedly heavily armed Mohamed Merah lived, leading to a siege that ended after police stormed his flat on Thursday morning. Merah jumped out of a window while firing back at cops and was subsequently found dead on the ground. It is as yet unclear whether the fall or police snipers killed him.
During the firefight, Merah reportedly proclaimed allegiance to al Qaida and admitted responsibility for shooting dead of three French soldiers in two ambushes last week as well as the attack on the Jewish school. ®