TOULOUSE, France — Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah was buried in his hometown Toulouse on Thursday, despite a protest by the French city's mayor after the serial killer's homeland Algeria refused his corpse.
Around 15 mainly young men accompanied 23-year-old Merah's gold-handled casket into the city's Cornebarrieu cemetery where Muslim prayers were recited before the Al-Qaeda-inspired killer's body was laid to rest.
Journalists were kept out of the cemetery by police.
Muslim official Abdallah Zekri said he expected the body to be buried in an anonymous grave as "the family wants a burial that is the most simple and discreet possible".
The burial took place after President Nicolas Sarkozy waded into the debate over where the man who shot dead three Jewish children, a teacher and three soldiers should be buried after he himself was killed in a police raid.
"He was French. Let him be buried and let's not have any arguments about it," Sarkozy told BFMTV news channel in a bid to bring an end to a tragic episode that eclipsed an increasingly tight presidential election campaign.
"I've said what I think of Mohamed Merah, who behaved in a monstrous way," Sarkozy said of the gunman shot dead by police at his Toulouse flat on March 22, exactly a week earlier.
Toulouse mayor Pierre Cohen called earlier for a last-minute delay to the burial, saying it was "inappropriate" for him to be buried in his hometown in southwestern France where he also carried out some of his killings.
But Zekri of the French Muslim Council told AFP that after negotiations, Merah would be buried in the Toulouse cemetery's Muslim section. Zekri earlier criticised the mayor's call for a delay.
"The announcement is, frankly, ill-placed. Mohamed Merah was born here, he lived here, he died here. Let him be buried and be done with it. We must stop this argument," he said.
Family members had wanted the Frenchman of Algerian descent flown to Algeria, but they changed their mind after Algeria refused the body.
"The family has asked me to organise a funeral in France within 24 hours, in agreement with the authorities, because Algeria refused to accept Mohamed Merah's body for security reasons," Zekri told AFP in Toulouse.
"The family is disappointed, but at the same time it understands," Zekri said.
Merah, branded a "monster" by French leaders after his killing spree, died in a hail of police bullets last Thursday after a 32-hour siege on his Toulouse flat.
Merah's parents had asked for his body to be buried in Algeria, with his mother Zoulhika Aziri saying she feared his grave would be "vandalised" in France.
His father, Mohamed Benalal Merah, has lashed out at French authorities over his son's death and threatened to sue France, drawing sharp criticism from French officials.
He told AFP in Algeria that he regretted not being able to attend the funeral.
"It was written that he would not be buried in Algeria," he said. "It is unfortunate that I will not be able to attend, I have neither enough time nor a special plane to take me to Toulouse."
He refused to comment on Algeria's refusal to accept the body, saying: "I do not know the laws."
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