TOULOUSE, France, March 30 (UPI) -- French officials say they doubt Mohammed Merah's claims of ties to al-Qaida but say they still wonder how he acquired a cache of firearms.
Police said their investigation indicates Merah's personal torment was at least as important as any terrorist ties in his becoming a self-styled jihadist who killed seven people over a span of several days in the Toulouse area, The New York Times reported Friday.
Merah killed a rabbi, his two children and another schoolgirl outside of a Jewish school last week and three paratroopers of north African descent the week before. Merah allegedly admitted to the shootings during a two-day standoff with police at his apartment in Toulouse before he was killed in an exchange of gunfire. During on-and-off negotiations, police said he told them he was trained by al-Qaida and killed his victims over the treatment of Palestinians, among other things.
Merah was buried Thursday in Toulouse after Algeria, where his father lives, refused to accept his body for burial.
Investigators said Merah may have exaggerated, even invented, his claims that he received terrorist training.
"All signs indicate that Merah was an isolated lone wolf and was not part of an organized terrorist network," Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told the Times. "We believe that he was radicalized by his older brother, Abdelkader, who had links to Salafist extremists. But Mohammed Merah appears to have been largely self-taught."
Among the weapons police found were three Colt .45s, a Sten submachine gun and a shotgun, along with $26,000 in cash.
While Merah's childhood friends said they couldn't understand how he became an al-Qaida operative, they told the Times they could relate to the rage he felt.
"Our passports may say that we are French, but we don't feel French because we are never accepted here," said a man identified only as Faoud. "No one can excuse what he did, but he is a product of French society, of the feeling that he had no hope, and nothing to lose."
"It was not al-Qaida that created Mohammed Merah," he said. "It was France."