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.”