France raises terror alert after gunman kills 4 outside Jewish school
ASSOCIATED PRESS March 19, 2012 8:48AM
Police officers gather at the site of a shooting in Toulouse, southwestern France, Monday, March 19, 2012. A father and his two sons were among four people who died Monday when a gunman opened fire in front of a Jewish school in a city in southwest France, the Toulouse prosecutor said Monday. (AP Photo/Bruno Martin)
Updated: March 19, 2012 2:30PM
TOULOUSE, France (AP) — A motorbike assailant opened fire with two handguns Monday in front of a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse, killing a rabbi, his two young sons and a schoolgirl. One witness described him as a man chasing small children and “looking to kill.”
One of the guns he used also been fired in two other deadly motorbike attacks in the area, officials said. French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested one person was responsible for all the killings.
A massive manhunt was under way and the terrorism alert level was raised to its highest level across a swath of southern France surrounding Toulouse. Hundreds of officers were increasing security at schools and synagogues around the country, and Sarkozy said 14 riot police units “will secure the region as long as this criminal” hasn’t been caught.
Monday’s attack revolted France, where school shootings and deadly attacks on Jews are extremely rare, and drew strong condemnation from Israel and the United States.
Sarkozy called it the worst school shooting in French history.
France, which has seen a low drumroll of anti-Semitic incidents, is particularly sensitive toward the Jewish community because of its World War II past of abetting Nazi occupiers in deporting Jewish citizens.
French prosecutors were studying possible terrorist links but the motive for all three attacks was unclear. Still, issues about religious minorities and race have emerged prominently in France’s current presidential campaign.
News that the gun was used in attacks last week around Toulouse fueled suspicions that a serial killer was targeting not only Jews but French minorities. The dead and injured in the earlier motorcycle attacks were paratroopers of North African and Caribbean origin.
In all three cases, the attacker came on a motorcycle, apparently alone, and then sped away.
A 30-year-old rabbi and his 3-year-old and 6-year-old sons were killed just before classes started at the Ozar Hatorah school, a junior high and high school in a quiet residential neighborhood, Toulouse Prosecutor Michel Valet said.
Another child, the 8-year-old daughter of the school principal, was also killed, school officials said. Valet said a 17-year-old boy was also seriously wounded.
“He shot at everything he had in front of him, children and adults,” Valet said. “The children were chased inside the school.”
Nicole Yardeni, a local Jewish official who saw security video of the attack from the single camera near the school gate, described the shooter as “determined, athletic and well-toned.” She said he wore a helmet with the visor down.
“You see a man park his motorcycle, start to shoot, enter the school grounds and chase children to catch one and shoot a bullet into her head.” Yardeni said in an interview. “It’s unbearable to watch and you can’t watch anymore after that. He was looking to kill.”
A police official said the same powerful .45-caliber handgun used in Monday’s attack on a school in Toulouse was used in shootings four days ago that killed two paratroopers and seriously injured another in nearby Montauban, and in an attack that killed a paratrooper eight days ago in Toulouse.