PARIS (Reuters) - A French judge put under formal investigation on Saturday a 31-year-old man suspected of helping an al Qaeda-inspired gunman prepare a shooting spree in the southern France city of Toulouse last year, a judicial source said.
The man is suspected of providing weapons and a bullet-proof vest to Mohamed Merah, who killed seven people including three Jewish children and three soldiers in and around Toulouse in March 2012 before he was shot dead by police.
It was the worst such attack on French soil since the 1995 bombings on the Paris underground by Algeria's Armed Islamic Group (GIA) that killed eight and wounded scores.
Under French law, a formal investigation means there exists "serious or consistent evidence" of a suspect's probable implication in a crime and is an important step towards a trial.
The man has been put under investigation for buying weapons and passing them on to Merah, as well as complicity in murder and being part of a network planning terror attacks, the judicial source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Merah's brother Abdelkader has also been in detention since March last year on suspicion of complicity in terrorism, murder and theft. He denies being an accomplice in the killings. A third man, Mohamed Mounir Meskine, is also under investigation, suspected of helping steal the scooter Merah used during the killings.
In a separate case, a Muslim convert suspected of stabbing a French soldier in a religiously motivated attack was placed under formal investigation on Friday.
Reporting by Nicolas Bertin; Writing by Ingrid Melander; editing by Patrick Graham