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French shooter was ‘abandoned child,’ attorney says

TOULOUSE, France - The 23-year-old man who claimed responsibility for several killings in southern France had separated from his wife days before the attacks and was suffering “psychological difficulties,’’ his lawyer said.

In an interview Wednesday with the Associated Press, attorney Christian Etelin sought to portray his now-slain client as a “lone wolf’’ with no organized crime or terrorist connections and as “an abandoned child’’ angry at a long-absent father.

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Police say that Mohamed Merah filmed himself killing three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi, and three paratroopers earlier this month and that he claimed he had links to Al Qaeda. Merah was killed in a gunfight with police last week.

While French politicians have described Merah as an isolated killer, police are searching for potential accomplices.

Merah’s brother is in custody, suspected of helping prepare the attacks. Questions about a possible “third man’’ intensified after officials said Merah was not the one who mailed a USB key with video of his killings to the Al-Jazeera news network.

Merah’s body will be sent to Algeria for burial, said Abdellatif Mellouki, regional leader for France’s main Muslim organization. Merah was born in France and grew up in Toulouse, but his family is of Algerian origin and his father, who lives in Algeria, wants his son buried there.

Etelin was taken aback when Merah was identified last week in a nationwide manhunt as the top suspect in France’s worst terrorist killings since the 1990s. The lawyer appeared to still be learning things about Merah, whom he had represented before and who had numerous convictions for delinquency. Etelin last saw Merah on Feb. 24, about two weeks before the first killings March 11.

“I maintain that it is a case of a lone wolf,’’ he said. “It’s in the context of the contradictions he wrapped himself in, the psychological difficulties that he had to cope with, that everything happened. . . . There was no infrastructure or organization that he would have been the soldier for.’’

Etelin said Merah got married in an Islamic ceremony in December, but the couple separated less than a week before the first attack. They had had no civil ceremony, which is required for the marriage to be recognized under French law.

“He had a failure inside of him, a suffering of the abandoned child. This situation of abandon that he suffered again after the separation with his wife,’’ Etelin said.

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