DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (AP) — Dozens of French Muslims are training with the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan, raising fears of future attacks following the shooting deaths of seven people in southern France allegedly by a man who spent time in the region, Pakistani intelligence officials said Saturday.
Authorities are investigating whether Mohamed Merah, the Frenchman of Algerian descent who is suspected of killing three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three French paratroopers in Toulouse this month, was among the training group, the officials said.
Merah was killed in a dramatic gunfight with police Thursday after a 32-hour standoff at his Toulouse apartment. The 23-year-old former auto body worker traveled twice to Afghanistan in 2010 and to Pakistan in 2011, and said he trained with al-Qaida in the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan.
Approximately 85 Frenchmen have been training with the Pakistani Taliban in the North Waziristan tribal area for the past three years, according to the intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Most of the men have dual nationality with France and North African countries.
The Frenchmen operate under the name Jihad-e-Islami and are being trained to use explosives and other weapons at camps near the town of Miran Shah and in the Datta Khel area, the officials said. They are led by a French commander who goes by the name Abu Tarek. Five of the men returned to France in January 2011 to find new recruits, according to the officials. It’s unclear whether Merah was among that group.
A militant commander, Ahmed Marwat, claimed in a phone call with the AP on Saturday that Merah was affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan, but provided no details. Marwat said he was part of the Jundullah wing of the Pakistani Taliban.