Al Jazeera and the Toulouse Killings

by Aube Rey Lescure

The tragic saga continues: Mohamed Merah, now-dead author of the seven racial killings in Toulouse, turned out to have video camera strapped to him while he was shooting all of his victims. In the few days between murdering a rabbi and three children at a Jewish religious school and his stand-off between the police, he managed to compile the footage of his shootings into some sort of a homemade-video with intense music mixed with chanted verses of the Qur’an in the background. The video was stored on an USB key and mailed to the Al-Jazeera headquarters in Paris along with a letter written in semi-broken French. It is unclear whether Merah went to the origin of the package—a small suburban town outside of Toulouse—to mail the video himself or whether he was benefiting from the complicity of his brother or another acolyte.

Abdelkader Merah, the killer’s elder brother, has been taken into custody by French authorities. Although this may look like an attempt to quench the national thirst for revenge against Merah, there appears to be plenty of evidence that Abdelkader Merah is an Islamic extremist who played a significant role in the active indoctrination of his brother and the provision of the surprising amount of automatic weapons his brother managed to stockpile. As time passes more and more information is surfacing about Abdelkader Merah’s numerous and regular trips to Cairo and Iraq, where he maintained ties with extremists. What the nation and the world had taken as the actions of a lone terrorist are now proving to be the calculations of a duo—if not more.

While it would be too outlandish to speculate about the existence of a well-established network surrounding the Toulouse killings, there still seems to be a level of preparation and execution worthy of much worry. It is likely that Merah was not the one who left his house to mail his footage to al-Jazeera—and even if it was, the very fact that the footage was sent on an USB indicate that an unknown amount of its replicas could also be stored elsewhere. Merah is now dead, but it seems overly optimistic to assume that the al-Jazeera footage is the only copy and Merah the only person who could have distributed it.

Al Jazeera is one of the most influential news networks in the world, and must often deal with issues surrounding graphic footage. (Flickr Creative Commons)

Al-Jazeera has refused to broadcast the footage it received and handed it over to the police. Whether or not the murder tape will pop up elsewhere (most likely on the internet), it is significant to recognize the merit and consequences of al-Jazeera’s decision. The Qatar-based network certainly has not been chosen by Merah at random; it has had a history of releasing al-Qaeda and other terrorist footage in the aftermath of 9/11.  These are stormy waters to navigate in, for despite all the heat al-Jazeera has gotten from western critics for broadcasting these it can always get away by using the justification of “journalistic value”, which some of these videos undoubtedly have. As appalling and repulsive as it sounds, had al-Jazeera chosen to release the footage from the Toulouse killings, it would have certainly have earned terrifyingly high viewing rates from viewers suffering from the general real-gore-attraction-repulsion syndrome. From a purely economic perspective, showing the murders would have been lucrative; but after a few days of meetings and deliberations al-Jazeera decided against the release on journalistic grounds and stated that the footage brought nothing new that had journalistic value. Needless to say Sarkozy and the French government have been intensely pressuring the network throughout the process, but al-Jazeera very defensively clarified that the decision it reached has by no means been influenced by foreign governmental pressure. It was the right choice for more than the obvious reason that real-life footage of children getting shot is gruesome—we must remember that Merah committed the crimes with the obvious intent of having them publicized to the world with al-Jazeera as a platform. Had al-Jazeera complied and broadcasted his montage, what example and precedent would it have set for other copycats who might want to replicate Merah’s shoot-while-shooting tactics? Al-Jazeera executives have recognized in a New York Times interview that they receive many violent videos every single day, mostly from Syria. Imagine how the number of ‘kill-scare-publicize’ terrorists would have risen had al-Jazeera granted Murah’s wishes. Let’s give credit where credit is due and applaud the al-Jazeera leadership for their foresight in this situation, as well as feel sorry that they had to watch the video at all.

Aube Rey Lescure ’15 is in Davenport College.  She is a Globalist Notebook Beat Blogger on E.U. affairs.  Contact her at