If the video comes across as something of a hardscrabble inspirational tool for potential radicals, police believe that Louis-Sidney later recruited childhood friends from Cannes and the suburbs of Paris to his group, and that at least one had left prior to the police crackdown to join militant Islamists fighting in the Middle East.
That is part of why, on Oct. 6, anti-terror police armed with clubs and sniper guns penetrated the Esplanade neighborhood of Strasbourg, in eastern France, where Louis-Sidney was at the apartment of the mother of his baby. According to the police version of events, as they emerged from the elevator, preparing to arrest Louis-Sidney, they discovered that he had placed a glass object in front of the door to alert him of arrivals. Authorities say that Louis-Sidney “immediately” unloaded the barrel of his Magnum .357 at the officers, striking one in the chest area of his bulletproof outfit, and that the anti-terror squad returned fire and killed him. (French media found several friends of Louis-Sidney who cast doubt on the official police version of events.)
Six of the Frenchmen arrested by authorities in the crackdown in Cannes and Paris stand accused of attempted assassination and of having links to a terrorist enterprise. Perhaps most troubling, French authorities discovered five wills “addressed to Allah” (although two were blank). One was found at the apartment of Louis-Sidney, who they said had just shaved his beard; a potential indicator that he was preparing to take part in an attack. Police believe that at least one friend of his, known as Mahouachi, had already left Cannes for Syria without warning his family, to join Islamists who are among the forces fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime. (Other than Louis-Sidney, it remains unclear who else signed their own wills.)
But the arrest of one of the 11 men, Jrmie Bailly, 25, in the Parisian suburb of Torcy, brought a disturbing discovery. Bailly, who is one of the six men who now face charges, had a storage space where authorities discovered an array of products handy in making improvised explosives: a pump, potassium nitrate, sulfur, saltpeter, pressure cooker-type containers and headlight bulbs. They also found a handgun and a shotgun, according to the prosecutor.
Most troubling, in their searches, police also found what they believe is a terrorist target list of “Israeli structures” that also included the name of a Jewish lawyer who has been active in battling anti-Semitism cases. (He is now under state protection and police are withholding his identity.)
In the aftermath of the arrests, President Franois Hollande met with Jewish and Muslim leaders in France to communicate his strong convictions in the battle against radicalization, terrorism and anti-Semitism. Following the rampage by Merah, police tightened security around synagogues and Jewish schools. More recently, the government introduced legislation to broaden police powers to monitor the Internet, and to make it a crime for French people to travel abroad for terror training. (Given that such people don’t tend to self-declare such travels, however, it is more likely to be punitive than dissuasive.)
France still has a ways to go in rooting out its anti-Semitism, and in comforting a sensitive Jewish population that has a living memory of the nation’s complicated history. There’s no shortage of common ignorance across the political spectrum about the vast majority of Jews’ relationship to France, Israel, and even to their own religion. But the true challenge is to soften the anger in French ghettos that sometimes inspires crazy conspiracy theories among young men capable of meting out pain and even death, in part so that the era when Jewish lives were swept away by murderous hate can be left to the dustbin of history.
Eric Pape is a writer in Paris.