50 years after JFK, family of Jack Ruby feels the pain


We were sharing a pastrami sandwich and pickles at a Los Angeles landmark: Canter’s Deli on Fairfax. I was 24; she was nearly 50 years older, with a piercing voice as loud as her flaming red wig.

Her name was Eva Rubenstein Grant, and she was a little-known nightclub manager the morning of Nov. 24, 1963, when her brother Jack Ruby left the apartment they shared in Dallas and blasted his way into infamy by fatally shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. It was history’s first live televised murder.

Eva worked and lived with her younger brother and spent the rest of her life defending him against various allegations. “I swear on my life, my brother was not three things,” Eva told me, her voice rising. “He was not a homosexual; he was not with the communists; and certainly not with the underworld!”

I listened with fascination to Eva on that day in 1977. (Years later, she was perfectly portrayed in a TV movie by Doris Roberts, the high-decibel mom on “Everybody Loves Raymond.”) “But Mrs. Grant,” I said, “Jack had ties to the ‘syndicate,’ as you call it, as far back as your childhood in Chicago.”

“Look,” she replied in exasperation. “We would see these people in the neighborhood, and we’d ask, ‘How’s your mother? How’s your sister?’ But that doesn’t mean Jack was connected with them! I grew up with a bunch of boys who turned out to be no good. Who knew!?”

It was a quintessentially Jewish response, albeit delivered in Eva’s hybrid Chicago-Dallas accent. And the Rubensteins were a staunchly Jewish family, a fact that may have played a role in Ruby’s killing of President John F. Kennedy’s alleged assassin.

Ruby was born Jacob Rubenstein in 1911 to Polish-Jewish immigrants Joseph and Fannie. They were a volatile couple; Joseph was a mean and abusive drunk, while Fannie suffered from mental illness and was committed to an Illinois state hospital at one point.  

Their eight children had their fair share of tzuris, both before and after the parents separated. Jack and three siblings were made wards of Chicago’s Jewish Home Finding Society and placed in foster homes for various periods of time during the 1920s.  

Despite the dysfunctional world of the Rubensteins, the parents kept a kosher home, holidays were observed, the boys received some Hebrew school training and went with their father to synagogue.

Jack idolized Jewish boxing champion Barney Ross, who later described him as a “well-behaved” youth. But others recall his hair-trigger temper and street brawls, especially when taunted by the non-Jews in his mixed Jewish-Italian neighborhood.

Ruby biographer Seth Kantor writes, “In his mid-20s, he was part of a Jewish pool-hall crowd that attacked the …  pro-Hitler German-American Bundist meetings. In his mid-30s, as an Air Force private, he beat up a sergeant who had called him a Jew bastard.”

At the end of World War II, Eva moved to Dallas and began managing nightclubs and restaurants. Jack got an honorable discharge from the Air Force in 1946, then joined Eva in Texas in 1947, the year he and brothers Earl and Sam all legally changed their last name to Ruby.

As a young man in Chicago, Ruby reportedly ran errands for Al Capone’s cousin and henchman Frank Nitti. A former Dallas sheriff once testified that Chicago Mafia figures told him Ruby was sent to Texas to run nightclubs that were fronts for illegal gambling operations. According to evidence uncovered by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the 1970s, Ruby was later linked to mobsters Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante, who the panel considered prime suspects in a possible mob conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy.

Whatever he was doing behind the scenes, Ruby became known as a nightclub owner, and at some point he began attending services at Congregation Shearith Israel. Rabbi Hillel Silverman, who was the synagogue’s spiritual leader from 1954 to 1964, says, “He didn’t come regularly, but he came to say Kaddish for his father. He came to minyan one day with a cast on his arm. I said, ‘Jack, what happened?’ He said, ‘In my club, somebody was very raucous, and I was the bouncer.’ ”

Silverman (whose father, Morris, edited the Conservative movement’s siddur, and whose son Jonathan is an actor known for “Weekend at Bernie’s”) is now 89 and still leading High Holy Days services every year in the San Diego County community of Vista. His memories of Ruby remain precise. Sometimes he was peaceful and calm, but he was unpredictable,” Silverman told me recently. “He could be very volatile and belligerent at times.”

“He came to my home once with a bunch of puppies and said, ‘Take one.’ I didn’t really want a dog, but one of my kids did, so we ended up with a puppy.  Then we went to Israel one summer, and I had no place to put the dog. I went to Jack’s nightclub, and the dog stayed there for a month. So Jack Ruby was my dog sitter,” the rabbi recalled, laughing.

But there was no laughter in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. “The day of the assassination, we had our regular Friday night service, which became a memorial service for the president. Jack was there. People were either irate or in tears, and Jack was neither. He came over and said, ‘Good Shabbos, Rabbi.  Thank you for visiting my sister Eva in the hospital last week.’ I thought that was rather peculiar.”

Two days later, Silverman spoke to his Sunday morning confirmation class, expressing relief to the students that Lee Harvey Oswald was not Jewish, or else “there might have been a pogrom Friday night here in Dallas.” He then switched on the radio and heard that a “Jack Rubenstein” had killed the alleged assassin.

“I was shocked,” Silverman said. “I visited him the next day in jail, and I said, ‘Why, Jack, why?’  He said, ‘I did it for the American people.’ ”

I interrupted Silverman, pointing out that other reports had Ruby saying he did it “to show that Jews had guts.” The elderly rabbi sighed. “Yes, he mentioned that. But I don’t like to mention it. I think he said, ‘I did it for the Jewish people.’ But I’ve tried to wipe that statement from my mind.”

Another one of  those close to Ruby who has tried, unsuccessfully, to block out most of the past is his nephew “Craig” Ruby. (He asked that I not give his real first name). His early memories are pleasant. “Uncle Jack would come to the house two or three times a year for Jewish holidays. He’d have a shot of whiskey with my dad, and most of the time, he’d give us each a silver dollar.” More impressive to Craig was Ruby’s flashy wheels. “He got a new car every other year, and he always had a nice two-door sports coupe.”Craig enjoyed going with his father to visit Ruby at his nightclub in the afternoon, before the doors would open. 

Like millions of Americans, Craig watched the stunning murder of Oswald live on television, and soon afterward, he and his mother heard the name of the gunman. “Did you ever hear the expression ‘the color drained from her face’? I literally saw my mother’s face go from flesh to green,” he recalled. At age 12, that was a little freaky to watch.”

The FBI arrived that evening to interview Ruby’s brother and sister-in-law, and later stationed agents outside the house after a bomb threat was called in.  

Half a century after the fact, Craig is still bitter over the dramatic effect his childless uncle’s act had on the extended family. “My dad sold off his business in order to pay for Uncle Jack’s lawyers, leaving us nearly destitute.” Given his last name, Craig was an easy target for bullies during his junior high school years in Dallas, although he remembers one gym coach who’d known Jack telling the students to leave Craig alone.

Worst of all, though, was facing Uncle Jack himself. “One Sunday, my dad insisted we go to see Jack in jail. Outside, a police car’s siren started up, and my uncle was standing there with this incredibly intense, wild-eyed look on his face, and he yelled, ‘You hear that? You hear that? They’re torturing Jews in the basement!’ That particular experience was traumatic enough to where talking about it right now, 50 years later, is turning my gut into a knot.” 

Rabbi Silverman, who later testified before the Warren Commission, also vividly remembers his jailhouse visits. “In prison, he deteriorated psychologically. One time I walked in, and he said, ‘Come on, Rabbi, duck underneath the table.  They’re pouring oil on the Jews and setting it on fire.’ He was quite psychotic.”

As a broadcast journalist, my initial connection to Jack Ruby’s eccentric family was through his sister Eva, who I convinced to appear on ABC’s “Good Night America” program in 1976. (The previous year, the show had made headlines by airing the Abraham Zapruder  film of the JFK assassination on TV for the first time).  

I visited Eva several times at her Beverly Boulevard apartment in Los Angeles, where she once gave me the last piece of stationery from Jack’s Carousel Club.  She introduced me to her brothers Earl, who owned a dry cleaning store in Detroit, and Sam, who lived in the L.A. suburb of Sylmar. Sam showed me the one picture he had of their immigrant parents, as well as the rusting car Jack drove to the Dallas police station the morning he shot Oswald. In 1991, Earl allowed me to rendezvous with him in Dallas on the day he retrieved Jack’s gun, which he won after a decades-long legal battle. I later exclusively showed the weapon on television for the first time since 1963, shortly before it was auctioned off for $220,000.

 The brothers also downplayed Jack’s ties to the mob. Sam leaned in close and lowered his voice, confiding, “These guys would come into Jack’s club, and you had to be nice to them, ya know.” Ironically, however, when Earl chose a place for us to meet in Dallas the day he was given Jack’s gun, he picked an Italian restaurant better known for its links to the Mafia than for its lasagna.

Some conspiracy theorists believe Ruby was ordered to silence Oswald by his organized-crime contacts. Others, who think the murder was an impulsive act, point to Ruby’s fury over an anti-Kennedy advertisement in a Dallas newspaper the morning of the president’s visit. It was paid for by a right-wing Jewish activist named Bernard Weissman, which Ruby thought put Jews in a bad light.

We will never know for sure. What Craig Ruby knows for certain is that he did not mourn his uncle’s death from cancer in 1967. His family had moved to Chicago by then. “I remember getting off the school bus on a cold January day, and saw a headline on the newsstand — ‘Jack Ruby Dead In Jail.’  I literally felt a weight lift from my shoulders. And I thought, ’Thank God it’s finally over.’ I was 15.”

As for having a connection to one of the darkest moments in American history, Ruby’s view has not changed in 50 years. “I wish to God it hadn’t happened to us.”


Steve North is a broadcast journalist with CBS News who’s been reporting on the Kennedy assassination since 1976.

Film suggests Toulouse killer was disturbed, not hateful


Four weeks before he murdered seven people in Toulouse, a cheerful Mohammed Merah was filmed laughing and showing off his skiing skills to friends at a popular Alpine resort.

The footage, televised on March 6, formed the opening sequence in a controversial documentary about the 23-year-old, French-born jihadist who murdered three soldiers and four Jews last year in a rampage that shocked the country.

Aired by public broadcaster France 3 ahead of the anniversary of the killings, the 105-minute film, titled “The Merah Affair — The Itinerary of a Killer,” was billed as the definitive investigative work on Merah. More than 2 million viewers tuned in.

But the film also has exposed a rift between those who view Merah's actions as the product of deep anti-Semitic currents among jihadists and others who believe Merah was driven largely by emotional problems stemming from a difficult childhood and possible psychiatric illness.

“Very early on after the killings, we saw an objectionable tendency to view Mohammed Merah as a victim,” Richard Prasquier, the president of the CRIF, France's main Jewish umbrella group, told JTA. “Regrettably, the film amplifies this view.”

Merah was a petty criminal from Toulouse who was jailed for theft in 2007. While in jail, the film reports, he was teased and seen as a buffoon. He tried to commit suicide by hanging himself in his prison cell, according to a prison psychologist.

Merah seemingly took comfort in Islam, growing his beard long and immersing himself in religious texts. Following his release in 2009, he traveled to several Middle Eastern countries, including Pakistan, where he received weapons training at a terrorist encampment.

On March 11, 2012, Merah approached an off-duty French Moroccan paratrooper on a Toulouse street and shot him in the head. Four days later he killed two uniformed soldiers and injured a third at a shopping center in Montauban, about 45 minutes to the north.

Then, on the morning of March 19, Merah arrived at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse and opened fire, killing Miriam Monsonego, the 8-year-old daughter of the Jewish school's principal, along with Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and his two young sons, Arieh and Gavriel. According to a police officer interviewed in the film, Merah knelt beside one of the children and shot the victim in the head.

In the film, Merah is portrayed as a troubled and aggressive youth, the youngest of five siblings raised by a single mother. At 9 he was placed at a state-run institution for at-risk youths after a social worker determined he wasn't attending school regularly and lacked the necessary support at home. Five year later, a teacher wrote, “He is offensive to girls. Every day we intervene on a fresh aggression, theft, conflict or attack committed by Mohammed, who will not accept the authority.”

Merah's mother, Zoulikha Aziri, who in the film spoke to the French media for the first time, could provide no explanation for her son’s actions, but said he once told her, “There’s a man in my head and he keeps talking to me.”

“Our objective was to understand Mohammed Merah, to study the context in which he grew up,” Jean-Charles Doria, the film's director, said in an interview with the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur. “We found a banal setting: a broken family, absent father, powerless mother, late religious discovery and a disturbed character.”

It is precisely this focus on Merah's psychological profile that critics charge grossly misrepresents not only the nature of Merah's crimes but the essence of jihadist hatred.

The filmmakers declined to include the testimony of Merah's brother, Abdelghani, who last year said Mohammed was “raised to be an anti-Semite because anti-Semitism was part of the atmosphere at home.” Nor did they note the 90 anti-Semitic incidents that occurred in the 10 days following the shootings — part of a 58 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in France in 2012.

The thought that a French Muslim “could go skiing and then murder soldiers and children is too frightening for France 3,” Veronique Chemla, a Jewish media analyst and investigative journalist, told JTA. “So instead of examining how Merah was ideologically transformed, the film speculates on Merah’s sanity.”

Pierre Besnainou, a former president of the European Jewish Congress and president of the FSJU social and cultural arm of the French Jewish community, said “the film demonstrates a total misconception of the true nature of jihadist indoctrination.” And the CRIF's Prasquier said the Jewish community must fight the tendency to portray Merah in a sympathetic light.

“The shootings were first and foremost part of radical Islam and its dangers,” Prasquier said.

The film's producers did not respond to JTA's request for comment. But in his Le Nouvel Observateur interview, Doria denied that the film portrayed Merah as schizophrenic, merely as “inept at social relations and mostly isolated.” He added that Merah had sought legitimacy from Islamic preachers for actions he already had planned.

“We see clearly in Merah a collection of naive religious sentiments, not real faith or ideology,” Doria said.

The film also devotes many minutes to reviewing the failures of French authorities, who had flagged Merah as a person of interest back in 2010, the year he traveled to the Middle East. It also revealed that after Merah had been identified as a suspect in the murders, he managed to shake off a police detail and slip undetected in and out of his apartment mere hours before a French SWAT team surrounded it and killed him.

While critics praised the film for exposing these failures, Besnainou said they are a red herring.

“The way to beat the Merahs of the world isn’t just more security, it’s education and social mobilization against their ideology,” he said. “This film makes this harder to achieve.”

Leiby Kletzky’s accused killer to plead guilty


The Brooklyn, N.Y.-man accused of killing 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky is expected to plead guilty.

Levi Aron will face at least 40 years in prison, according to Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind.

A law enforcement official close to the investigation confirmed the details, according to news reports.

A plea is expected Tuesday.

Aron, 35, is charged with murdering Leiby near his Brooklyn home. He said he picked up the haredi Orthodox boy in his car when the boy became lost July 11, 2011 while walking home from camp for the first time and asking for directions. Aron said he panicked after the boy was reported missing.

Parts of Leiby’s dismembered body were found in the freezer of Aron’s apartment.

Hikind told the Wall Street Journal the Leiby’s family satisfied that Aron “will likely spend the rest of his life in prison” and was in favor of the plea agreement.

“The family wants justice,” Hikind said, “but nothing is going to bring Leiby back.”

‘Son of Sam’ denied parole for sixth time


David Berkowitz, the New York serial killer known as “Son of Sam,” was denied parole for a sixth time.

A New York prison parole board made the decision on Tuesday to deny Berkowitz, 58, who has spent 35 years behind bars. He will be eligible for another parole hearing in two years.

Berkowitz admitted to killing at least six people and injured others during a crime spree in 1976 and 1977 that terrorized New York City. He is serving a sentence of 25 years to life in the maximum security Sullivan Correctional Facility in New York State.

He has expressed remorse for the shootings and runs a prison ministry.

Berkowitz became a born-again Christian in 1987 and now calls himself “Son of Hope.” On a videotape message last week to a prayer breakfast in Virginia, he said God can forgive anyone, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

Rashid Baz, killer of Ari Halberstam in 1994, admits to anti-Semitic motive


Rashid Baz, the Lebanese cab driver convicted in the 1994 murder of Ari Halberstam, admitted that he had been looking to kill some Jews that day, the New York Post reported.

Baz, who is serving a 141-year prison sentence, opened fire on a van full of Chasidic youths on a ramp approach to the Brooklyn Bridge on March 1, 1994, just days after the Hebron massacre of 29 Arabs by Baruch Goldstein. The attack killed Halberstam, a 16-year-old yeshiva student, and left another boy critically injured.

For years, Baz’s defense was that the shooting was the result of a traffic accident, and the FBI initially classified the incident as a case of road rage. But Halberstam’s mother, Devorah Halberstam, waged an aggressive public campaign to have the shooting recognized as a terrorist attack, and numerous officials rallied to her cause. Federal officials eventually reversed their analysis.

Several years after the shooting, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani renamed the ramp approach to the bridge in Ari Halberstam’s honor.

In 2007, Baz finally confessed that the killing was not the result of a chance encounter but that he had been looking to kill some Jews, the Post reported. Though the confession is several years old, it was only reported this week.

Baz told investigators that he followed the van, which had been trailing the motorcade of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, for more than two miles before the shooting, according to the Post. He was carrying three weapons with him, including a machine gun that he had moved from the trunk of his car into the cab before the shooting.

“I only shot them because they were Jewish,” Baz reportedly said in his confession.

Gunman dies in hail of bullets as French siege ends


A 23-year-old gunman who said al Qaeda inspired him to kill seven people in France died in a hail of bullets on Thursday as he scrambled out of a ground-floor window during a gunbattle with elite police commandos.

Mohamed Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, died from a gunshot wound to his head at the end of a 30-hour standoff with police at his apartment in southern France and after confessing to killing three soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi.

He was firing frantically at police from a Colt 45 pistol as he climbed through his apartment window onto a verandah and toppled to the ground some 5 feet below, in a suburb of the city of Toulouse, according to prosecutors and police.

Two police commandos were injured in the operation – a dramatic climax to a siege which riveted the world after the killings shook France a month before a presidential election.

“At the moment when a video probe was sent into the bathroom, the killer came out of the bathroom, firing with extreme violence,” Interior Minister Claude Gueant told reporters at the scene.

“In the end, Mohamed Merah jumped from the window with his gun in his hand, continuing to fire. He was found dead on the ground.”

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Merah had taken refuge in his bathroom, wearing a bullet-proof vest under his traditional black djellaba robe, as elite police blasted his flat through the night with flash grenades.

Police investigators were working to establish whether Merah had worked alone or with accomplices, Molins said, adding that Merah had filmed his three shooting attacks with a camera hung from his body and had indicated that he had posted clips online.

The most disturbing image of the attacks showed him grabbing a young girl at a Jewish school on Monday by the hair and shooting her in the head before escaping on a scooter.

The killings have raised questions about whether there were intelligence failures, what the attacks mean for social cohesion and race relations in France and how the aftermath will affect President Nicolas Sarkozy’s slim chances of re-election.

Sarkozy called Merah’s killings terrorist attacks and announced a crackdown on people following extremist websites.

“From now on, any person who habitually consults websites that advocate terrorism or that call for hate and violence will be punished,” he said in a statement. “France will not tolerate ideological indoctrination on its soil.”

Elite RAID commandos had been in a standoff since the early hours of Wednesday with Merah, periodically firing shots or deploying small explosives until mid-morning on Thursday to try and tire out the gunman so he could be captured.

Surrounded by some 300 police, Merah had been silent and motionless for 12 hours when the commandos opted to go inside.

Initially, he had fired through his front door at police when they swooped on his flat on Wednesday morning, but later he negotiated with police, promising to give himself up and saying he did not want to die.

By late Wednesday evening, he changed tack again, telling negotiators he wanted to die “like a Mujahideen”, weapon in hand, and would not go to prison, Molins said.

“If it’s me (who dies), too bad, I will go to paradise. If it’s you, too bad for you,” Molins quoted Merah as saying.

IF YOU KILL MY BROTHERS

Merah told negotiators he was trained by al Qaeda in Pakistan and killed three soldiers last week and four people at a Jewish school on Monday to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and because of French army involvement in Afghanistan.

In his video recording of his shooting of the soldiers, Merah cried: “If you kill my brothers, I kill you”, Molins said.

Merah had staked out the first soldier he killed after replying to an advert about a scooter, investigators said on Wednesday, and had identified another soldier and two police officers he wanted to kill.

His use of his mother’s computer to lure his first victim, a French soldier of North African heritage like himself, gave police a vital clue, but not in time to prevent the other killings, even though he had taken the scooter to a mechanic for a respray before the final attack on Monday.

Sarkozy’s handling of the crisis could well impact an election race where for months he has lagged behind Socialist challenger Francois Hollande in opinion polls.

Early on Thursday, the first opinion poll since the school shooting showed Sarkozy two points ahead of Hollande in the first-round vote on April 22, although Hollande still led by eight points for a May 6 runoff.

Three years of economic gloom, and a personal style many see as brash and impulsive, have made Sarkozy highly unpopular in France, but his proven strong hand in a crisis gives him an edge over a rival who has no ministerial experience.

Sarkozy said an inquiry would be launched into whether French prisons were being used to propagate extremism and urged people not to seek revenge for acts he described as terrorism.

Merah has a police record for several minor offenses, some involving violence, and was on the radar of French intelligence, but Gueant has said there was no evidence he had been planning radical murders.

The MEMRI Middle East think tank said he may belong to a French al Qaeda branch called Fursan Al-Izza, ideologically aligned with a movement to Islamic Western states by implementing sharia law, but Gueant said there was no evidence he formally belonged to any fundamentalist group.

Friends spoke of him as an amateur soccer player, not outwardly religious and fond of night clubs.

Merah, who had a weapons cache in his flat that included an Uzi and Kalashnikov assault rifle, boasted to police negotiators that he had brought France to its knees, and that his only regret was not having been able to carry out more killings.

French commandos had detonated three explosions just before midnight on Wednesday, flattening the main door of the building and blowing a hole in the wall, after it became clear Merah did not mean to keep a promise to turn himself in.

They continued to fire shots roughly every hour, and stepped up the pace from dawn with flash grenades.

“These were moves to intimidate the gunman who seems to have changed his mind and does not want to surrender,” said interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet.

He was tracked down after a no-holds-barred manhunt in France, during which presidential candidates suspended their campaigning.

Immigration and Islam have been major campaign themes after Sarkozy tried to win over supporters of Le Pen, who accused the government of underestimating the threat from fundamentalism.

Leaders of the Jewish and Muslim communities have called for calm, pointing out the gunman was a lone extremist.

On Thursday, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen accused Sarkozy’s government of surrendering swathes of often impoverished suburban districts to Islamic fanatics, demanding that the last month of pre-election debate put the focus back on failing security.

Additional reporting by Jean Decotte in Toulouse and Daniel Flynn, Geert de Clercq and Alexandria Sage in Paris; Writing by Catherine Bremer; editing by Philippa Fletcher

Toulouse killer visited Israel, other countries in the region


The passport of Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah showed that he visited Israel, Syria, Iraq and Jordan, a French newspaper reported.

Police found Merah’s passport in his apartment following the raid Thursday that led to his death, LeMonde reported. It is believed that he tried to visit the West Bank.

Merah jumped to his death from his apartment window during a police raid on his Toulouse home. He was also shot in his head by police as he jumped firing at the officers.

A man riding a motorbike opened fire Monday outside the Ozar Hatorah school where students were waiting to enter the building at the start of the school day. During the more than 30-hour standoff in his apartment with police, Merah said he was the attacker, according to French officials.

Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and his two young sons, as well as the 7-year-old daughter of the school’s principal, were killed in the attack. They were buried Wednesday in Jerusalem.

Merah told French police he killed the Jewish students at the Ozar Hatorah school Monday in revenge for Palestinian children killed in Gaza, and had killed three French soldiers for serving in Afghanistan. Police found videos he took of the killings with a camera hung around his neck, according to reports.

Merah, a French national of Algerian origin, had claimed ties to al-Qaida in France and reportedly had been known to French intelligence for many years.

Also Thursday, an extremist group known as the Soldiers of Caliphate claimed responsibility for the shootings in France, calling it a response to Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians, according to Haaretz.

“The jihadists everywhere are keen to avenge every drop of blood unfairly shed in Palestine, Afghanistan and elsewhere in Muslim countries,” said the group in a statement posted on an extremist website, according to the newspaper.

Besieged gunman boasted he brought France to its knees


A besieged gunman suspected of shooting dead seven people in the name of al Qaeda boasted to police on Wednesday he had brought France to its knees and said his only regret was not having been able to carry out his plans for more killings.

In an unfolding drama that has riveted France, about 300 police, some in body armor, cordoned off a five-story building in a suburb of Toulouse where the 24-year-old Muslim shooter, identified as Mohamed Merah, is holed up.

Authorities said the gunman, a French citizen of Algerian origin, had been to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he claimed to have received training from al Qaeda.

Merah told police negotiators he had killed three French soldiers last week and four people at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and because of the French army’s involvement in Afghanistan.

“He has no regrets, except not having more time to kill more people and he boasts that he has brought France to its knees,” Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins, part of the anti-terrorist unit leading the investigation, told a news conference.

The gunman, who filmed his killings with a small camera, had already identified another soldier and two police officers he wished to kill, Molins said. The gunman had repeated promises to surrender this evening to members of the elite RAID unit surrounding the house, which had been evacuated of its other residents.

“He has explained that he is not suicidal, that he does not have the soul of a martyr and that he prefers to kill but to stay alive himself,” Molins said.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is running for re-election in five weeks time, paid tribute at a ceremony in an army barracks in Montauban, near Toulouse, to the three soldiers of North African origin killed last week. A fourth soldier of Caribbean origin is in a coma.

“Our soldiers have not died in the way for which they had prepared themselves. This was not a death on the battlefield but a terrorist execution,” Sarkozy said, standing before three coffins draped in the French flag after paying his respects to bereaved relatives.

“We must remain united. We should in no way yield to discrimination or vengeance,” he said in his eulogy. “France can only be great in unity. We owe it to the memory of these men, we owe it to the three murdered children, to all the victims.”

Sarkozy’s appeal for national unity came after far-right leader Marine Le Pen, a rival presidential candidate, said France should wage war on Islamic fundamentalism.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant said Merah was a member of an ideological Islamic group in France but this organization was not involved in plotting any violence.

He said Merah had thrown a Colt 45 pistol of the kind used in all the shootings out of a window of the block of flats, where he has been living, in exchange for a mobile phone, but was still armed.

Two police officers were injured in a firefight with the gunman after police swooped at 3 a.m. local time.

Police sources said they had conducted a controlled explosion of the suspect’s car at around 9:00 a.m. GMT after discovering it was loaded with weapons. Officials said police had also arrested Merah’s girlfriend and his brother, who is also known to authorities as a radical Islamist.

RAID

Gueant said Merah had contacted the first soldier he attacked on the pretext of wanting to buy his motorcycle.

Investigators identified the IP address he used – that of his mother – because he was already under surveillance for radical Islamist beliefs.

“We knew, and that is why he was under surveillance, that he had traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the minister said.

Merah’s telephone was tapped from Monday and with the help of other information the police decided to raid his house. Merah has a criminal record in France, Gueant said, but nothing indicating such an attack was possible.

A police source told Reuters that investigators had also received a tip-off from a scooter repair shop in Toulouse where the gunman asked to change the color of the Yamaha scooter used to flee the shootings and to remove a GPS tracker device.

A group of young men from Merah’s neighbourhood described him as a polite man of slight build who liked football and motorbikes and did not seem particularly religious.

“He isn’t the big bearded guy that you can imagine, you know the cliche,” said Kamal, who declined to give his family name. “When you know a person well you just can’t believe they could have done something like this.”

Sarkozy had been informed of the standoff early in the morning, officials said. The president’s handling of the crisis could be a decisive factor in determining how the French people vote in the two-round presidential elections in April and May.

The Jewish victims from the Ozar Hatorah school were buried in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Parliament speaker Reuben Rivlin said in his eulogy at the hill-top cemetery that the attack was inspired by “wild animals with hatred in their hearts”.

Authorities said on Tuesday that the gunman had apparently filmed his rampage through the school with a camera strapped to his body. He wounded Rabbi Jonathan Sandler as he entered the building, then shot an 8-year-old girl in the head, before returning to kill Sandler and his two children, who had rushed to his side, at point blank range.

Immigrants and Islam have been major themes of the campaign after Sarkozy tried to win over the voters of Le Pen, who accused the government on Wednesday of underestimating the threat from fundamentalism.

“We must now wage this war against these fundamentalist political and religious groups that are killing our children, that are killing our Christian children, our Christian young men, young Muslim men and Jewish children,” she told the i-Tele news channel, questioning the decision to deploy in Afghanistan.

But leaders of the Jewish and Muslim communities said the gunman was a lone extremist.

France’s military presence in Afghanistan has divided the two main candidates in the election. Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande has said he will pull them out by the end of this year while Sarkozy aims for the end of 2013.

Additional reporting by Brian Love, Daniel Flynn and Geert de Clercq in Paris; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Giles Elgood

Second Fogel family killer sentenced to five life sentences


A second Palestinian man was sentenced to five consecutive life sentences for the murder of five members of the Fogel family in a West Bank Jewish settlement.

Amjad Awad, 19, was sentenced Monday in a West Bank military court. He was convicted in November for the March 11 murders in Itamar, which is near his home in the West Bank town of Hawarta.

Awad also was sentenced to an additional seven years in prison on two counts of weapons trafficking and one count of conspiracy to commit murder, for a total sentence of 132 years in prison.

The panel of judges said it had considered giving Awad the death penalty. The judges also said in their decision that Awad “doesn’t have a fragment of regret in his heart.”

Awad and his cousin, Hakim Awad, murdered Udi Fogel, 36, and Ruth Fogel, 35, and their children, Yoav, 11; Elad, 4; and Hadas, 3 months, in a Shabbat eve attack on their home in the northern West Bank. Hakim Awad was sentenced in September to five life sentences plus five years, for a total of 130 years.

Three of the Fogel children survived the attack. Two were sleeping in a side bedroom and were not discovered, and a daughter was out of the house at the time of the killings. She came home to discover the bodies.

Fogels’ killer sentenced to five life sentences


A Palestinian man was sentenced to five consecutive life sentences for the murder of five members of the Fogel family in a West Bank Jewish settlement.

Hakim Awad, 18, was sentenced Tuesday in a West Bank military court. He had admitted guilt in the March 11 murders in Itamar, which is near his home in the West Bank town of Hawarta, and refused to express regret. The judges called the attack “an atrocious, bone chilling and terrifying act.”

Israel does not have a death penalty, though the judges said in their decision that they had deliberated on sentencing Awad to death.

“A case such as this tempts the use of such a punishment,” the judges wrote in their decision. “The imprisoned criminal, whose life would be taken after being sentenced to death, might turn into a martyr, a shaheed in their terms, with all the meanings that are attached to it.”

The five consecutive life sentences are equal to 130 years in prison.

Awad and his cousin, Amjad Awad, 19, murdered Udi Fogel, 36, and Ruth Fogel, 35, and their children, Yoav, 11; Elad, 4; and Hadas, 3 months, in a Shabbat eve attack on their home in the northern West Bank. Amjad Awad has been convicted of the murders and is awaiting sentencing.

Three of the Fogel children survived the attack: Two were sleeping in a side bedroom and were not discovered, and a daughter was out of the house at the time of the killings. She came home to discover the bodies.

Accused Nazi killer charged in Budapest


A former Hungarian military officer was charged with war crimes during World War II by prosecutors in Budapest.

Sandor Kepiro, 96, was charged Monday for involvement in the murder of some 1,200 Jews, Serbs and Gypsies during a raid by the wartime Hungarian Gendarmerie at Novi Sad in 1942.

He was found guilty on charges arising from the massacre shortly after the event by an independent Hungarian court, but his sentence was quashed after the invasion of the country by Nazi Germany in 1944.

Kepiro has lived openly in Hungary for the past five years, returning there after living in Argentina for decades. After World War II, Kepiro escaped first to Austria and then Argentina, eventually returning home on the assumption that his case would not be reopened in the absence of fresh evidence. He now lives in an elegant district of Buda across the street from a thriving synagogue.

Kepiro was discovered in Budapest in 2006 by Ephraim Zuroff, the American-born Israeli historian, Nazi hunter and director of the Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem.

In 2007, Kepiro sued Zuroff, alleging that he had made statements about the Novi Sad case as fact rather than opinion. A Budapest court tossed the case last December after Kepiro failed to appear in court.

In 2008, Serbian prosecutors launched a war crimes investigation into Kepiro’s actions.

Kepiro told the Associated Press that he is bedridden and wants to return to his family in Argentina.