PARIS, France — (DMN/BBC) – French police are linking the shootings of four people at a Jewish school in Toulouse to the killings of three soldiers of North African descent in two separate incidents last week. The same gun and the same stolen scooter were used in all three attacks, sources close to the investigation say. A teacher and three children were shot dead at the Ozar Hatorah school, and a teenage boy was seriously injured. One of the biggest manhunts in France in recent times is now under way. Investigations are pursuing two principal lines of inquiry: an Islamist motive or the far right.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, who flew to Toulouse in the wake of the attack, described it as a “national tragedy”. He said a single person had carried out all three attacks and that an “anti-Semitic motive” seemed obvious. Guards are to be posted outside all faith-based schools, as well as all Jewish and Muslim religious buildings, he said. Mr Sarkozy has also placed south-west France on the highest level of terrorism alert. All schools in France will observe a minute’s silence on Tuesday morning at 11:00 (10:00 GMT).
The latest shootings took place as parents were taking their children to the school on Monday morning. Witnesses said the gunman pulled up on a black scooter and began shooting at an area which serves as the drop-off point for the school’s nursery- and primary-age children. “This man alighted from his moped and, as he was outside the school, he shot at everybody who was near him, children or adults. Children were chased right into the school,” local prosecutor Michel Valet told journalists. The scooter – a black Yamaha – was stolen in Toulouse on 6 March, five days before the first shooting. Its number plate was picked up by closed-circuit TV cameras at the school, police sources said.
The dead were Jonathan Sandler, a 30-year-old rabbi and teacher of religion originally from Jerusalem, and his two sons, aged three and six. The fourth person killed was an eight-year-old girl, daughter of the head teacher. All the dead were dual French-Israeli nationals and will be buried in Israel, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said. A 17-year-old boy was seriously hurt. The head of Toulouse’s Jewish community told the AFP news agency the boy had undergone several operations but he was likely to recover.
Initially, the killer used a 9mm gun, but when it jammed, he switched to a .45 calibre weapon. Police say the .45 was the same gun used to kill three soldiers in two separate shootings in Toulouse and the nearby city of Montauban last week. All three were of North African or Caribbean origin. A paratrooper out of uniform was shot dead in a residential area of Toulouse just over a week ago, while two soldiers were killed and a third wounded as they used a cash machine in the town of Montauban, some 29 miles (46km) away, on Thursday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “a loathsome murder of Jews, which included small children” and said an anti-Semitic motive could not be ruled out. All the candidates in the French presidential election have suspended campaigning. Mr Sarkozy said his campaign would remain suspended until Wednesday at the earliest, when he is due to attend the soldiers’ funerals. As well as Mr Sarkozy, opposition Socialist candidate Francois Hollande visited Toulouse to offer his condolences. Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen called on the authorities to do everything to prevent another such attack.
In the UK, Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the attack. “This act of calculated cruelty will unite all decent people in revulsion and condemnation,” he said. The BBC’s Hugh Schofield, in Paris, says not since the 1970s and early 80s have there been lethal attacks like this in France on Jewish targets. And even then, children were never the primary victims, he says. Six people were killed and 22 injured in an attack in 1982 on a Jewish restaurant in Paris. France has the largest Jewish community in western Europe, numbering some 500,000.
Manhunt in France for racist serial killer as four shot dead in Jewish school
Just before 8am, Ethel Guedj dropped off two of her sons, aged 15 and 11, at the Ozar Hatorah private Jewish secondary school in a quiet residential street of north east Toulouse. As usual, there were young children milling in front of the gates, waiting to be taken to the nearby primary school. Guedj’s sons followed other teenagers into morning prayers and had barely put down their briefcases when they heard shots ring out.
A gunman had pulled up on an expensive motorbike with a big engine, dismounted and pulled out two high-calibre handguns. He fired at “everything in front of him, children and adults,” the state prosecutor said. He shot dead Jonathan Sandler, a 30-year-old French-Israeli rabbi who had recently joined the staff to teach Yiddish, and Sandler’s two sons, aged six and three. Then he stepped over the bodies and chased children into the school courtyard where witnesses said he pursued a child, the 10-year-old daughter of the principal, grabbed her by the hair, pulled her to him and shot her at close range. “My sons saw the bodies, there was blood everywhere,” said Guedj as she stood crying, face contorted in horror, outside the school. “My son was saying, ‘We were praying, Mum, but our prayers didn’t work’. “
Hugh Schofield BBC News, Paris
It is now established beyond doubt that the three incidents in Toulouse and Montauban were the work of the same man. He used the same gun, rode the same 500cc Yamaha scooter, and acted with the same cold-blooded brutality.
But why the widely differing choice of targets: soldiers and Jewish children? One theory is that the man is a deranged far-rightwinger. It is noted that the three dead soldiers were of North African origin, and a fourth who was injured is from the French Caribbean.
The killer has a clear affinity with guns. Could he be a neo-Nazi type – maybe an ex-soldier or a member of the criminal underworld – with a hatred of all minorities, Jews and Muslims?
Some have gone further – indirectly pointing the finger at President Sarkozy for recently raising sensitive issues such as halal and kosher meat in the run-up to the presidential election. This tactic, they say, gives credibility to the far-right and ‘delegitimises’ the Muslim and Jewish communities.
The problem with this theory is that it is not yet established that the killer deliberately targeted Muslim soldiers.
France is in a state of shock and revulsion after the rabbi and three children were killed in the most brutal attack on the French Jewish community in decades, which also left another 17-year-old boy fighting for his life in hospital. The mood, described as “blind panic” by one witness to the shootings, is heightened by a fear that France has been struck by a serial killer on the loose who is targeting minorities. One of the biggest manhunts in modern French history is under way after prosecutors confirmed that the gunman, who sped off on the motorbike, used the same stolen bike and same powerful high calibre handgun as was used in two “ride-by” motorbike shootings last week which targeted soldiers of north African and black Caribbean origin.
Three soldiers were killed, including two Muslims, and another is in a critical condition after the gunman opened fire on a soldier in Toulouse eight days ago and then targeted three paratroopers at a cashpoint in the nearby town of Montaubun on Thursday. “Everything leads one to believe that these were racist and antisemitic acts,” said the mayor of Toulouse, Pierre Cohen. Outside the school on a quiet street with pastel houses and wooden shutters and the first blossom of spring on the trees, one mother of two described a “psychosis of fear” as numbered bullet-holes were highlighted in the school’s aluminium fence. She said: “Toulouse has been shut down. What if the attacker is hiding in the area?”
Attacks in south-west France
11 March: Off-duty airborne sergeant shot dead in Toulouse while waiting to see man about selling his motorbike
15 March: Two paratroopers shot dead and a third seriously injured while waiting at a cash machine in Montauban
19 March: Three children and a teacher shot dead, and a youth injured, at a Jewish school in Toulouse
Speculation was rife as to what type of person the killer is. The news weekly Le Point said that one line of inquiry is to examine former paratroopers who had been expelled from their regiment in the area in 2008 for neo-nazi behaviour. Authorities did not immediately comment on the report. A 29-year-old classroom assistant who gave his name as Baroukh said: “When we heard the shots we ran with the children through an emergency exit into the basement to hide. The gunman fired again at the bodies on the ground, he hit some twice.” Children described how they whispered and prayed, hiding in the basement, unsure if the gunman was still in the school.
Simon Mana, 20, a former pupil who now works as a classroom assistant, said he heard the shots and arrived at the school as the children’s bodies were being covered with sheets. “It was total panic. Children were crying and jumping into my arms. Just days before I had been hugging the children who died. We’re lost, everyone is lost, totally lost and in shock.” The shootings led politicians to immediately suspend all campaigning in the presidential election, being held on 22 April and 6 May, as some speculated what effect the attack could have on a campaign battle where issues of religion, ethnic minorities and national identity had featured strongly, and the right had been accused of stoking tensions by forcing the marginal topic of halal meat and religious slaughter into the centre of the election debate.
President Nicolas Sarkozy rushed to the school, calling it a day of national tragedy. He said: “Barbarity, savagery, cruelty cannot win. Hate cannot win.” The Socialist presidential frontrunner, François Hollande also visited the school to condemn the “terrible, horrible drama” and call on France to unite. One 48-year-old father who lived near the school felt the shooting would heighten the mood of worry and fear around this “already very emotional election campaign.”
In 2002, a brutal attack on a pensioner shortly before the first-round presidential vote pushed crime and security issues on to the agenda and was felt to have contributed to the shock elimination of the Socialist candidate, beaten by the extreme right Front National’s Jean-Marie Le Pen. Toulouse has one of the largest Jewish communities in France, well-integrated and mainly of north African heritage: Morrocan, Tunisian and Algerian. France has the largest Jewish community in western Europe, estimated at about 500,000, as well as its largest Muslim population, about five million.
Sarkozy ordered increased security at Jewish and Muslim buildings around Toulouse, while his prime minister, François Fillon, told officials to secure all school and religious buildings in the entire country. “Just because we are different doesn’t mean we should be killed,” said one father in tears outside the school. Sandrine Roix, a local mother of two who knew children at the school said: “The mood is shock and fear. Everyone looking around for the motorbike. This must have been a fanatic, someone who’s ill. Everyone is afraid. It takes madness to do this, but will he be caught or strike again? People like this are uncontrollable.” Several witness said the gunman kept his motorcycle helmet on during the attack. But one mother, whose son witnessed the attack and was still reeling in shock, said he had stared directly at the children with “clear, green eyes”.
A three-year-old boy in a wheelchair gets a pat-down by a Transportation Security Administration agent.
The Transportation Security Administration is at it again. A You Tube videoof an airport security guard patting down a frightened three-year-old boy in a wheelchair is getting plenty of clicks and has reignited a controversy. The video, which has garnered more than 54,000 views since getting posted on March 17, shows a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent patting down the boy, who has a broken leg, and swabbing his wheelchair and his hands at O’Hare airport in Chicago. The child appears frightened as his father reassures him: “They’ve just got to check you.” “It’s OK. It’s kind of weird, but it’s no big deal,” his father is heard saying. “Don’t be nervous. It’s OK. He’s just checking to make sure that we’re OK to get on the plane, that’s all.”
But in annotations on the video, the father says it’s not OK at all. “My little boy wanted me to come over to hold his hand and give him a hug. He was trembling with fear. I was told I could NOT touch him during this process,” he said. “Instead we had to pretend this was ‘OK’ so he didn’t panic.” The TSA agent performing the pat-down also tries to calm the child, asking him questions about where he’s going and what kind of animals he likes. The pat-down is the latest episode in a controversy surrounding the TSA’s policy of searching children. In May 2011, a photo of agents patting down a baby at the Kansas City airport sparked outrage. “We reviewed the screening of this family, and found that the child’s stroller alarmed during explosives screening. Our officers followed proper current screening procedures by screening the family after the alarm, who by the way were very co-operative and were on the way to their gate in no time,” the TSA said at the time.
YouTube footage of agents patting down a six-year-old in New Orleans in April caused similar outcry. According to TSA’s website, kids must be subject to screening. “TSA has to screen everyone, regardless of age (even babies), before they can go through the security checkpoint in order to ensure the security of all travellers. TSA will not ask travellers to do anything that will separate them from their child or children,” reads the policy. “TSA specially trains transportation security officers and they understand travellers’ concern for their children. TSOs will approach children gently and treat them with respect. If a child becomes uncomfortable or upset, security officers will consult parents about the best way to relieve the child’s concern.” But the wheelchair-bound boy’s father deems the whole practice ridiculous. “Apparently, there’s lots of children in wheelchairs being used to bring down airplanes. It’s a brilliant plan when you think about it. PRETEND you are going to Disney, with 3 children, 2 parents, and 2 grandparents…when REALLY you smuggle C4 inside your toddler’s cast and wheelchair,” he said in a note on the video.
Those of you who read my blog with any regularity know that I am a fan of air travel safety but I am not, necessarily, a fan of the TSA. The smoke and mirrors approach to air travel safety is a joke and most Americans realize it for what it is. When some idiot tried to light a bomb in his shoes, the TSA overreacted by making everyone take their shoes off. The invasive pat downs and body scanners are a knee jerk reaction to the terrorist who tried to light a fuse in his underwear. When a terror threat from overseas indicated terrorists might use liquid to bring down a plane, the TSA was johnny on the spot with new restrictions on how much “liquid” you can bring in your carry-on. Just imagine the procedures when some doctor implants a bomb in some terrorists brain. Cat scans for all? PROFILE…PROFILE…PROFILE and ask the Israelis how they do it. The Israeli’s live in a continuous state of terror but no one is bringing their planes down and no one is going through these ridiculous screening procedures in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
In another TSA note, not related, the New York Post is reporting that a TSA screener at Newark Airport was recently busted in a major heroin den near her workplace — still wearing her spiffy, government-issued uniform, authorities said. Samirah Saunders, 22, and two other women were collared in the March 6 raid at 86 Wainwright St. in Newark, just around the corner from an elementary school and a spot where cops found a load of ready-for-street-sale heroin, according to sources and court records. Two other suspects, Gavin Barker, 23, and Mariyah Sanders, 20, were also arrested. It wasn’t clear whether Saunders was still on duty or was going to or from work.
She’s accused of helping to distribute the 1,400 packets of heroin, stamped “Green Lantern” and “P Dope” in green ink, confiscated from the apartment, according to court records. The fact that the pad was near a school resulted in Saunders’ being hit with an additional felony charge of possessing or distributing heroin within 1,000 feet of a school. In her mug shot, a somber Saunders was still wearing her blue TSA uniform blouse, adorned with black epaulets. Her lawyer, James Pomaco, insisted that his client went to the apartment just to say hello to the other women. “She was at the wrong place at the wrong time,’’ he said.
DENVER, Colorado — (DMN/CBS News) – Peyton Manning has chosen to play with the Denver Broncos next season. Although all the final details haven’t been reached on the contract, the Broncos will pay Manning $90 million plus with at least half that in guarantees. KCNC-TV (Denver) reporter Vic Lombardi reports that “there are a lot of different factors, but it was all about relationships. He came to Denver first — this was the first place he visited. John Elway was his childhood idol,” Lombardi said. “John Fox is a defensive minded coach who is much like his old coach when he won a Super Bowl in Indianapolis — Tony Dungy. Fox who will allow him to run of the offense, literally. There aren’t many quarterbacks that can do that. Manning can do that.”
Lombardi reports that the Broncos will now be looking to trade quarterback Tim Tebow. “I know the Broncos have been in contact with at least three teams regarding Tebow. Despite what people think, there is a market for him,” Lombardi wrote on his Twitter account. “According to sources inside the Broncos, the building at Dove Valley is going nuts. They’re celebrating big time. What a coup by John Elway. … The Broncos won him over with Elway and Fox. End of story. They won him over,” Lombardi Tweeted.“Manning Watch” dominated headlines in Denver last week. Even President Barack Obama weighed in during an interview with KCNC at the White House.
“Do you think Manning is going to play for the Broncos?” KCNC-TV reporter Karen Leigh asked the president during their interview in the Cabinet Room. Obama replied: “Peyton Manning is one of the best of all time and anybody would be lucky to have him. I know the Broncos are going after him pretty hard. We’ll see. If natural beauty has anything to do with it, then I’m sure Denver will do pretty well.” The hoopla started after the quarterback first flew to Colorado and met with the Broncos on March 9. That was two days after being released by Indianapolis in a roster restructuring move.
To say that it almost takes an act of God to find out what is going on behind closed doors in Texas government is not that far off. That very secrecy, which has been exposed again and again by this journalist and reporters throughout the Lone Star, has helped lead to an overall D+ rating for Texas in the area of “public integrity.” The Texas Tribune is reporting that the Lone Star earned a D+ for state integrity, tying with six other states for 27th place, according to a study released Monday by a group of public watchdog agencies.
Texas scored 68 percent, along with Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Montana and West Virginia. “This study shows it’s time to unshackle Texas’ ethics watchdog and give it some teeth,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen Texas, a watchdog group. The national report, compiled by the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity, used local reporters in all 50 states to review the laws and practices related to transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms. The report compared laws and practices in individual states against 330 “corruption risk indicators” and applied them to 14 categories of state government that were each graded on a 0-100 scale.
The scale was not curved, and no state received an A. Topping the list was New Jersey, with 87 percent. In a news release, the group explained that states in which corruption has been a problem tend to pass more robust accountability laws. That is how New Jersey got to the top of the ranks. The other four states to receive a B were Connecticut, Washington, California and Nebraska. The eight states that failed were Georgia, South Dakota, Wyoming, Virginia, Maine, South Carolina, Michigan and North Dakota.
The highest marks for Texas were in the categories of auditing, in which the state tied with Mississippi for first in the nation, and in pension funding, in which Texas came in eighth. Auditing received good marks because of the Texas Internal Audit Act and the practices of the Texas State Auditor’s Office. Pension funding received strong or fair ratings in most areas, with the exceptions of weak ratings for auditing and making available to the public the asset disclosures of the top management of the state’s pension funds.
In the category of executive accountability, Texas placed 41st. A recent Texas Tribune story revealed that Gov. Rick Perry has been drawing retirement pay from the state while getting a paycheck for his work as governor. Perry is not required to declare that fact under state law, and he did not disclose it until he began his run for president. The study rated financial disclosure requirements for the executive as weak, along with laws and practices related to cronyism, nepotism, patronage and the ability of the executive to use campaign contributions for personal purposes.
Legislative accountability ranked 25th, while judicial accountability came in highest of the three branches of government, at 15th among the states. Texas’ lowest marks were for civil services management, where the state ranked 44th. Weak ratings for asset disclosures, prevention and punishment of corruption, along with poor protection for whistleblowers, contributed to the ranking. Texas tied for fifth with Kentucky for the highest enforcement gap, which measures the difference between the state’s laws and what happens in practice. The larger the gap, the greater the perceived problems with enforcing the laws.
Smith said the gap is owed mostly to the structure of the Texas Ethics Commission. “A complaint to the TEC must receive a supermajority vote of six out of the eight board members to be acted upon,” Smith said. “The TEC is in place to protect the politicians, not people.” Despite recent partisan bickering and protracted court battles over redistricting, Texas scored a 50 percent in that category, tying for 31st place with eight other states. Texas scored well on indicators such as how informed the public was about progress of redistricting. But its scores were weak on holding public hearings and including public input in the process.
A full report card for Texas follows, along with details and references. Just click on the image below:
TOULOUSE, France — (DMN/BBC) – A gunman has shot dead a teacher and three children at a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse. He opened fire on the Ozar Hatorah school in the north-east of the city, also seriously injuring a teenage boy. The attacker fled on a scooter, in similar style to the killer of three soldiers in two separate incidents in the same part of France last week. Officials admit there are similarities between the incidents but say there is no hard evidence yet linking them. President Nicolas Sarkozy, who flew to Toulouse, described the attack as a “national tragedy”. He has called for all schools in France to observe a minute’s silence on Tuesday and vowed to hunt down the killer.
The grand rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim said he was “horrified” and “stunned” by what had happened. Israel called on the French authorities “to shed full light on this tragedy and bring the perpetrators to justice”. Monday’s attack happened at around 08:00 (07:00 GMT), as children and their parents were arriving at the school, in the Jolimont area of the city. Witnesses said the gunman pulled up on a black scooter and began shooting at an area which serves as the drop-off point for the school’s nursery- and primary-age children.
“This man alighted from his moped and, as he was outside the school, he shot at everybody who was near him, children or adults. Children were chased right into the school,” local prosecutor Michel Valet told journalists. The gunman is reported to have initially used a 9mm gun, but when it jammed, he switched to a .45 calibre weapon. A teacher at the school, believed to be aged 30, and his two children, aged three and six, are reported to have been killed. The third child killed was aged between eight and 10 years old and belonged to another teacher at the school, French media report.
A 17-year-old was seriously injured. Police have launched a massive hunt in Toulouse to find the killer – wailing sirens and the sounds of helicopters overhead could be heard throughout the morning. Some 60 police officers, including anti-terrorist specialists, had already been drafted in to the Toulouse area earlier in the week to help investigate the attacks on the soldiers. A paratrooper out of uniform was shot dead in a residential area of Toulouse just over a week ago, while two soldiers were killed and a third wounded as they used a cash machine in the town of Montauban, some 29 miles (46km) away, on Thursday.
All three – of North African and Caribbean origin – were shot by a man on a scooter. A .45 calibre weapon was also used in the Montauban shootings. Mr Sarkozy echoed the comments of other French officials when he said he was “struck by the similarities” of the recent attacks, but he warned against jumping to conclusions. Prime Minister Francois Fillon has asked for all schools and religious buildings across the country to be secured in the wake of Monday’s shooting, the Associated Press reports. The president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, called for the perpetrator to be brought to justice. “We must now urgently address the need to ensure that appropriate security measures are put in place at all Jewish institutions in Europe to ensure that the safety of Jews on this continent is not placed in jeopardy,” he said.
Sarkozy, who is currently on the election trail, cancelled all appointments and visited the site of the shootings on Monday. He called them an “abominable drama” and a “frightening tragedy”. He said everything would be done to hunt the killer and bring him to account. “Barbary, savagery, cruelty cannot win. Hate cannot win. The Republic is stronger than that,” Sarkozy said. François Hollande, the Socialist candidate favourite to win the presidential election, was also en route to the city. The French state prosecutor said there “were elements that justify us very seriously asking whether there was a link” between the school shooting and the shootings of four paratroopers in the region last week.
Luc Escodat, of the police union Alliance, told iTele TV that one of the two weapons used in the school shooting was similar to that used in last week’s attacks on soldiers. Three members of a parachute regiment were shot in broad daylight as they stood by a cashpoint in Montauban, 28 miles (46km) north of Toulouse, on Thursday afternoon. Abel Chennouf, 26, and Mohamed Legouard, 24, died on the spot. A third soldier is in a critical condition in hospital. The previous Sunday in a suburb of Toulouse, an off-duty member of another regiment was shot at point-blank range by a gunman on a scooter. Imad Ibn-Ziaten, 30, a marshal in the 1st Parachute Regiment, was standing next to his Suzuki 650cc motorbike outside a gym and had been wearing his helmet at the time. He was not in uniform.
The perpetrator of those “ride-by” shootings is still at large despite a wide police search and a mood of panic in south-west France. Media reports said the suspect in the two attacks had a tattoo or scar on his left cheek. The French government said security was being tightened at all religious sites in France, particularly around Jewish schools. Danièle Hoffman-Rispal, Socialist MP and vice-president of the France-Israel friendship group in the French parliament, said she was “profoundly shocked” by the attack. “Whatever the motives, the perpetrator of this hateful crime can never justify, nor make anyone forget, that he is the murderer of children.”