Castlebar students caught near Toulouse siege
Two Castlebar students were living just 300 metres away from the apartment in Toulouse, France where gunman Mohamed Mereh was under siege for 30 hours before being killed in a shoot-out last week.
Mereh had shot and killed seven people in southern France prior to being traced to an apartment on the outskirts of the city in the early hours of last Wednesday.
Living close by were Leah Kerr from Breaffy and Lisa Halpin from Snugboro who are on Erasmus in Toulouse. Another Castlebar girl, Sineád Murray from Milebush, lives with them but was at home in Ireland during the siege.
The roads in the area were cordoned off but the girls were able to go to college on Wednesday. While they admitted to feeling safe with over 200 police in the immediate area of the siege, there was still an eerie feel about the place.
“People were shocked, it is such a quiet residential area and people were really surprised that something like this could happen here,” Lisa Halpin told The Mayo News yesterday. “We went down for a look to where the barrier was and where all the media was. At night time the place was so quiet, there was no one on the street. It was quite scary at night - it did seem worse in the dark.
“I was almost asleep on Wednesday night and then you’d hear the gunshots. The noises were going through the night. Then I had my iPod on full blast and could still hear the gunshots. We heard three explosions on the Wednesday night which we learned since were grenades.
“The Thursday morning then we heard continuous gunfire and then heard it was all over and he had been killed. We’d hear the noise and wouldn’t know what it was and would check online to find out. It was around 10.30am when we found out that he had been killed,” she added.
The three Castlebar girls are studying in the Université Toulouse 1 Capitole for one year as part of their Corporate Law degree studies at NUI Galway - and credit NUIG for checking on their welfare last week.
Ironically they had hoped to live nearer to the college but ended up living in the Cote Devee area after having trouble getting accommodation. Located close to the pub of famous Irish rugby player Trevor Brennan, it had been, up until last week, a perfectly tranquil spot.
“It is a very quiet area of town. You’d rarely hear noise there. I love the place, it is night and quiet,” said Lisa Halpin.
And locals they’ve spoken to are shocked by what happened last week.
“A lot of the neighbours were saying he (Mereh) seemed nice and normal and they suspected nothing. Everyone is still talking about it and I think everyone is still on edge after a bomb scare too on Friday in the city centre and people wouldn’t be surprised if something else happened. People are certainly weary,” admitted Leah Kerr.
A French native of Algerian descent Mereh shot dead three French army soldiers in two separate attacks on March 11 and 15 and on March 19 he killed a Rabbi, the Rabbi’s two sons and a seven-year-old boy in a Jewish school. Claiming to be a member of Al-Qaeda, he had filmed each of his killings.
He was killed by a police sniper during a raid on Thursday morning. He was firing at incoming police officers when he was shot.
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