But a broader examination of the current mental state of France is already beginning. As the nation struggles to get back to normal -- even as photos of the cherubic faces of victims (ages four, five, and seven) stared out from the top of Le Figaro newspaper on March 22 -- it is clear that the national climate has changed.
For one, a nation with a competent reputation for handling Islamist terrorism -- France has avoided jihadist terror on its soil for the last 15 years even as the United States was transformed by 9/11, Spain weathered the 2004 Madrid bombings, and Britain was struck by the 2005 London attacks -- feels notably more vulnerable.
And while the new normal involves picking up where things left off -- like the presidential election, the first round of which will take place on April 22 -- the nature and tone of debate have already transformed. Between now and May 6, when the French will choose the actual president in a run-off, they are sure to change several more times.
A pall of horror continues to linger, making traditional campaigning ungainly, and it is clear that the political and electoral balance has shifted. Conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has faced the disapproval of nearly two-thirds of French voters for almost two years, has, during the killer's reign of terror, finally begun to begun to turn things around somewhat. Emerging surveys suggest that Sarkozy has reclaimed much of his natural base.
Conventional wisdom is that the resolution of the rampage without the deaths of anyone other than Merah will bring an electoral bounty to both Sarkozy and far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who currently runs a strong third in all polls, at between 13 and 16 percent. After all, both have spoken out recently about the dangers of radical Islam (sometimes cynically blurring the lines with average Muslims as a form of political populism in their tug-of-war over hard-right and far-right votes).
Whatever the case, Merah fits a convenient profile: the French-born son of Algerian immigrants had a criminal record as a petty criminal (authorities have suggested that his radicalization began during a stint in prison). He was more deeply indoctrinated, they believe, during a pair of trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he appears to have received terrorist training in Waziristan.
Le Pen struck hard this week when it became clear that the attacker claimed to represent al Qaeda. "It is time to wage war on these fundamentalist political religious groups who are killing our children," Le Pen said on the television news channel i-Tele, adding a dig at Sarkozy's government: "The fundamentalist threat has been underestimated."
Le Pen, who has stigmatized Muslims repeatedly during her campaign -- whether related to Muslims praying in the street (because they can't fit into overcrowded mosques), a hullabaloo about halal viande replacing religion-free meat for non-Muslim consumers, or promising to end nearly all immigration from outside Europe. She even suggested that France should hold a referendum to bring back the death penalty. A substantial majority of the French are against capital punishment, but the proposal is sure to play well to a chunk of the electorate that she and Sarkozy are wrestling over. "Those who kill are children should be risking their own skin," she said.
She even appeared on the Israeli radio station "90FM," broadcast out of Tel Aviv, to attack "Islamic fundamentalism" and Qatari influence. "Entire neighborhoods in the [ghetto] suburbs are under the influence of fundamentalists," she claimed, before asserting that foreign money is adding to the problem, as is the increasing availability of guns. (She didn't detail the source of her allegations about the Qatari funders.)