Hooded policemen walk next to the building where self-professed Al-Qaeda militant Mohamed Merah, 23, was living on March 23, 2012 in Toulouse, southwestern France. French police today prolonged the detention of the mother and brother of the self-proclaimed Islamic extremist who killed seven people before being shot dead, a legal source said. (Getty Images)
BERLIN (AP) — With France's deadly attacks, Islamic terror has apparently struck once more in the heart of Europe — and authorities say there's a dangerous twist: the emergence of homegrown extremists operating independent of any known networks, making them hard to track and stop.
"We have a different kind of jihadist threat emerging and it's getting stronger," Europol chief Rob Wainwright told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from The Hague. "It is much more decentralized and harder to track."
France's motorcycle gunman traumatized a nation heading into presidential elections and spread fear across the continent that the specter of al-Qaida was once again threatening daily life.
Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, sowed his terror over the course of nine days, killing paratroopers, Jewish children and a rabbi. He died Thursday in a shootout after police raided the Toulouse apartment where he had been holed up.
Merah traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan and had claimed to have trained with al-Qaida there, but French authorities said Thursday they had no evidence that he had any contact with terrorist groups or that al-Qaida had ordered the killings.
Wainwright warned that Europe faces a tough challenge ahead.
Combating individuals acting in apparent isolation, he said, will take smarter measures in monitoring the Internet, better intelligence and international cooperation in counterterrorism efforts.
And he conceded there were limits to what law enforcement officials can do. "We can't police the Internet," he said.
Other European terror authorities echoed that view, saying that apprehending suspicious individuals with no clear connections to terrorist networks is legally problematic.
"We have one law for war, one law for peace, but we don't have a law for the current situation," said Alain Chouet, a former intelligence director at France's DGSE spy agency.
"If we stopped (Merah) three weeks ago, what would people have said? 'Why are you stopping him? What did he do?'"
German officials expressed the same frustration in the case of Arid Uka, a Kosovo Albanian who gunned down two American airmen and wounded two others last year at the Frankfurt airport before being captured. Aside from illegally acquiring a handgun, the 22-year-old, who was convicted last month, had committed no crime until he shot his first victim in the back of the head.