A Frenchman suspected of helping his brother plot attacks against Jewish schoolchildren and paratroopers was handed preliminary murder and terrorism charges Sunday.
But Abdelkader Merah denied any role in the attacks. Investigators looking into France's worst terror attacks in years believe Merah helped his brother Mohamed prepare the killings, and are investigating whether they were linked to an international network of extremists or worked on their own.
Abdelkader's lawyer said he feels like "a scapegoat."
"No one knew anything" about what Mohamed was plotting, lawyer Anne-Sophie Laguens told reporters in Paris. She dismissed reports that Abdelkader had praised his brother's attacks. "He was never proud of those actions."
Mohamed Merah, 23, claimed responsibility for killing three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers earlier this month. After a 32-hour standoff with police, he died Thursday in a hail of gunfire as he jumped out a window of his apartment in the southern city of Toulouse.
Since then, attention has focused on his older brother Abdelkader Merah, who was handed preliminary charges on Sunday of complicity to murder and theft, and involvement in a terrorist enterprise, prosecutors said. Detained last week, he will remain in custody pending further investigation.
Preliminary charges under French law mean there is strong reason to believe a crime was committed, but allow magistrates more time to investigate.
Authorities suspect Abdelkader had a role in acquiring his younger brother's arsenal and financing his trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East. Mohamed Merah claimed allegiance to al-Qaida and told police he traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan for training.
Abdelkader was questioned several years ago about alleged links to a network sending Toulouse-area youths to Iraq, but no action was brought against him at the time.
Prosecutor Francois Molins said the inquiry is also looking at anyone else who could have been involved in planning the attacks.
The brother's girlfriend, Yamina Mesbah, was held, then released early Sunday without being charged. The Merah brothers' mother was released Friday night.
The girlfriend denied any involvement in what happened and said she was shocked by the killings, her lawyer Guy Debuisson said, adding that Abdelkader Merah appeared to have led a double life.
"This woman was unaware of anything about her husband's accessory, complementary or secret life," the lawyer said. The couple married according to Muslim custom in 2006, but did not undergo the civil ceremony required in France for a marriage to be recognized.
Abdelkader Merah took five or six long trips to Egypt, ostensibly to study Arabic literature, and his girlfriend joined him on two or three, the lawyer said. Continued...