For Mohamed Merah, the road to radicalisation ran from a delinquent childhood in Toulouse to Kandahar in Afghanistan.
The Frenchman of Algerian origin claimed to have had military training with al-Qaeda in a tribal zone over the border in Pakistan, according to prosecutors.
They say Merah made his own way there, without using networks that are under surveillance by Western intelligence. Yet, he was already on the watchlist of France’s security services after his return last year.
Before the dramatic events of recent days, however, authorities say there was no evidence Merah may have been planning a killing spree.
How could neighbours have known? Back home he liked football and nightclubbing, worked in a car body workshop and showed no sign of militancy, friends say. Yet other accounts describe a man who had carried a sword and watched videos on the Internet of Islamist beheadings of hostages.
In the end there would be no surrender; Merah is said to have expressed a wish to “die with weapons in his hands.”