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Toulouse Aftermath: Dreadful Ironies and Questions

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Mohammed Merah, a teenage loser, a petty thief and unemployed garage mechanic, who achieved instant worldwide notoriety as the latest symbol of Islamic jihad, went down in a hail of bullets early this morning.

He leaves a string of unanswered questions and paradoxes in his wake.

Such as, to what degree was this beardless, Lacoste-wearing young tough actually linked to al Qaeda, as he claimed to police and reporters?

To what degree was he really a self-declared jihadist, acting almost entirely on his own? An individual, unguided actor, biding his time, choosing his own target, his own time to act, rather than part of an organized cell, a target much more difficult for police in France and throughout Europe to deal with.

-- Another question, mentioned in my previous blog, but well worth repeating, because it leads to a further question:

France has chosen to spend hundreds of millions of dollars sending troops to Afghanistan to support Nato and the U.S. The presumed theory being to prevent that country from remaining a breeding-ground for terrorists to attack France and Europe and the U.S.

But it's almost certain that Merah, like hundreds or thousands of young would-be jihadists throughout Europe of Muslim descent, was drawn to Afghanistan over the past decade, exactly because French and American troops had joined in the invasion of that Islamic country.

Which brings up another irony (and question for Mohammed Merah.)

Why, if he was such a rabid jihadist, did he attempt in 2010 to enlist in the French military, specifically the Foreign Legion? For some reason -- either because he was rejected straight off, or got cold feet -- he never wound up in uniform.

If he had, the young man who became an overnight symbol for the Clash of Civilizations, might with -- just a slight twist of fate -- have joined French troops in Afghanistan battling Islamic militants. Who knows, he might even have been decorated!

Another question: what impact will this bloody national trauma have on the presidential elections, the first round due next month. Difficult to say at this point, but many commentators think that -- despite attacks from the far right that he has not been tough enough on radical Islam -- the speedy resolution of the immediate crisis will only bolster an embattled President Nicholas Sarkozy.

Ironically, it was a similar tense standoff in 1993 that first brought Sarkozy to the national spot light:

He was then the mayor of Neuilly, a tranquil community just outside Paris. when a gunman wearing a dynamite belt burst into a local school and demanded ransome to release eight hostages.

With incredible aplomb, Sarkozy talked the gunman into releasing one child and -- with the TV camers rolling -- walked out of the classroom with the youngster in his arms.

After 46 hours of talks, the gunman was finally killed by police sharpshoorters. The seven remaining hostages were freed unharmed. Sarkozy was launched.

The similar bloody denouement of Toulouse notwithstanding, whoever becomes France's next President will continue to face enormous problems -- and threats.

How many other Mohammed Merah's are out there?