Mohammed Merah, the 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian origin suspected of killing three paratroopers and three Jewish students and a rabbi, died on Thursday in Toulouse, France. According to French Interior Minister Claude Gueant, Merah jumped from a balcony firing "with extreme violence" as security forces stormed the apartment in which he had barricaded himself for over 30 hours, surrounded by 300 policemen. After negotiations on Wednesday the suspect had said he would turn himself in, but had gone back on the pledge and cut off communication. However, during the conversations, he confessed to the killings, saying they were to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children, as well as to protest France's role in the war in Afghanistan and last year's banning of Muslim women wearing face veils. He said he was a member of al Qaeda and was trained in the Waziristan region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins, Merah shot and wounded two police officers during the raid before coming to his death.
On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a statement supporting the U.N. and Arab League envoy and former Secretary General Kofi Annan's peace plan on Syria. Russia and China, who have blocked resolutions in the past, agreed to this non-binding statement, which lacks the authority of a Security Council resolution. The statement expressed the council's "full support" for Annan's peace efforts and appealed to the Syrian regime and opposition "to work in good faith with the envoy towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis." Despite the U.N. pressure to end violence, fighting across Syria continues. The Syrian opposition claimed heavy shelling and tanks in the Arbaeen neighborhood of the city of Hama, where dozens of people were reportedly killed by Syrian army attacks in the past two days. Clashes also continue in the Damascus suburbs of Harasta and Irbin, where regime helicopters and artillery fired on defectors who had previously incited an attack. The United Nations believes that more than 8,000 people have died in the year-long uprising in Syria.
- Bahrain's justice minister said the trials of 20 health workers who treated injured protesters during last year's uprisings will proceed.
- Violent clashes continued for a second day between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants on the southeast border with Iraq, resulting in the deaths of seven Kurds.
- Three Filipino sailors were kidnapped in Yemen by Islamist militants wishing for the exchange of one of their tribe's prisoners.
Arguments & Analysis
'Assad family values' (Patrick Seale, Open Democracy)
"The regime's victory at Homs has opened a new phase in the crisis, in which negotiations, presided over by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, might now be given a chance. Annan has been mandated by both the Arab League and the United Nations to bring about a ceasefire and create the conditions for a dialogue between the regime and its opponents. He has condemned the arming of the opposition and declared that his immediate goal is to stop the killing. Although the regime's onslaught continues and armed rebels refuse to put down their guns, there is yet a slim chance that Annan may succeed. In both camps there are men who now realize that there can be no military solution to the crisis -- either in Syria or in Iran."
'Turkey vs. Iran' (Mustafa Aykol, Foreign Affairs)
"The clash between Turkey and Iran has been more than just rhetorical. Tehran has been Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's biggest supporter, whereas Ankara has come to condemn the regime's "barbarism" and put its weight behind the opposition, hosting the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, the rebel government and army in exile. In Iraq, Iran is a patron of the Shias; Turkey is, at least in the eyes of many in the Middle East, the political and economic benefactor of the Sunnis and the Kurds. And the two countries have had tensions over the missile shield that NATO deployed in Turkey in September 2011. The Turkish government insists that the missile shield was not developed as a protection against Iran. Nevertheless, in December, an Iranian political official warned that his country would attack Turkey if the United States or Israel attacked Iran."
'Saudi Arabia and Syria: logic of dictators' (Madawi al-Rasheed, Open Democracy)
"The Syrian uprising is therefore an opportunity for the Saudis to kill two birds with one stone. The more the Saudi Sunni majority feel agitated by delayed reforms, economic problems, and increasing repression and arrests, the more the Saudi government wants to absorb these challenges through aggressive regional politics against an external "Shi'a Safavid enemy" and its local Arab allies. The underreported Shi'a revolt in Qatif, in the oil-rich eastern province, started in March 2011 and continues to pose a serious challenge. The regime attributes Shi'a agitations to Iranian support. The battle between security forces and local Qatif Shi'a has at the time of writing led to seven deaths and hundreds of arrests. From a Suadi regime perspective, getting rid of Bashar al-Assad can only erode Iranian influence both in the Arab Mediterranean region and in the Gulf itself."
--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey