Gunman attacks Jewish school in France, four killed (REUTERS) By John Irish and Guillaume Serries PARIS, FRANCE 03/19/12 7:19pm EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - A gunman shot dead three children and a rabbi at a Jewish
school in Toulouse on Monday, days after killing three soldiers
nearby, prompting French President Nicolas Sarkozy to put the region
on its highest terrorism alert.
With the attacker, who escaped on a motorbike, still on the loose,
police stepped up a manhunt in the city of a million people in
southwestern France. Sarkozy said the killings and those of the
soldiers, one of Caribbean and two of Muslim origin, in two attacks
last week, appeared to be motivated by racism.
Mourners gathered for an overnight vigil at the Ozar Hatorah school
in a leafy residential neighborhood in Toulouse, where the gunman
went on the rampage on Monday morning, killing a 30-year old rabbi
Jonathan Sandler, his children aged four and five, and another child,
the daughter of the school´s principal.
The 7-year-old girl, Miriam Monsonego, died in her father´s arms as
medics tried to resuscitate her.
"He came on his motorbike, got off and shot a bullet in the air...
Then he got out another gun and started shooting at everyone, at the
children. He chased us into the school," Baroukh, a Jewish man living
nearby who had come for morning prayers, told Reuters, declining to
give his family name.
Military police reinforcements were rushed into the area and guards
were deployed at mosques and synagogues in the region. In the United
States, New York police ramped up security at synagogues and other
Jewish institutions citywide.
Video surveillance footage showed the gunman bursting into the school
and shooting one child at close range in the head, before fleeing on
a motorbike, said Nicolas Yardeni, regional head of the French Jewish
umbrella association, CRIF.
It was the worst anti-Semitic incident in France since August 1982,
when six people were killed in a grenade attack and subsequent
shooting at the Goldenberg restaurant in a Jewish neighborhood of
central Paris. France´s 600,000-strong Jewish community is Europe´s
Sarkozy and Francois Hollande, the Socialist opposing him in his
uphill bid for re-election in May, both rushed to the scene.
"Barbarity, savagery and cruelty cannot win, hate cannot win. The
republic is much stronger than all this," Sarkozy said, announcing a
minute of silence in schools on Tuesday.
"One can imagine that the bloodthirsty madness was linked to racism,"
Sarkozy said, declaring he would suspend his campaign until
Wednesday, when he would attend the soldiers´ funeral.
Sarkozy said the gun used in the school shooting was the same one
used to kill the three soldiers by a lone gunman who also escaped on
a motor bike. He said the terrorism alert in the region around
Toulouse had been raised to scarlet, its highest level.
Some 120 investigators were working on a manhunt for the killer and
had already identified the license plate of the motor bike used in
the attack, police sources said. The gunman used a second gun when
the first jammed, the Toulouse prosecutor said.
Police cordoned off the school, where well-wishers had begun to lay
wreaths of flowers outside the bullet-marked walls as a line of
police stood guard. Hearses arrived carrying the bodies of the
victims for an overnight vigil attended by sobbing parents and
Hundreds of mourners in prayer caps gathered at the main mosque in
Toulouse, a bustling university town which is a hub for Europe´s
aerospace industry including aviation manufacturer Airbus. In Paris,
thousands staged a silent evening march in central Place de la
Republique, while political leaders joined a solemn remembrance
ceremony at the grand synagogue.
"I saw two people dead in front of the school, an adult and a
child ... Inside, it was a vision of horror, the bodies of two small
children," one father, searching for his son at the school among
crowds of distraught parents and children, told RTL radio.
"How can they attack something as sacred as a school?"
As messages of condolence poured in from across Europe,
representatives of France´s Jewish community voiced their solidarity.
In the past decade, there has been a string of attacks on synagogues
and Jewish schools, which educate some 30,500 children in France.
"I am horrified by what happened outside a Jewish school in Toulouse
today. It has bruised by body and my soul," said Gilles Bernheim,
France´s chief rabbi.
The Israeli embassy in Paris said the bodies of all four victims
would be flown to Israel for burial as soon as possible at the
request of their families.
"Today we had a savage crime in France that gunned down French Jews,
among them children," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told
reporters in Jerusalem. "I´m sure that Nicolas Sarkozy, the president
of France, and his government will do their utmost to find the killer
and we in Israel will do everything to help them in this task. "
Public prosecutor Valet said investigators were studying video
evidence from the school shooting and the attack on Thursday in the
nearby town of Montauban that killed two soldiers and left a third
The three men, aged between 24 and 28, were shot while in uniform as
they tried to withdraw money from a cash machine close to the
barracks of the 17th parachute regiment. A female witness told French
television the masked attacker appeared to have a tattoo on his face
when he lifted his visor.
A third soldier, aged 30, was killed the previous weekend in
Toulouse. In the wake of the attacks, French media reported that two
members of the 17th regiment had been expelled for neo-Nazism in
2008, prompting speculation of a racist motivation.
The shootings could thrust security back to the top of the agenda in
a bitter electoral campaign that has been dominated by issues of
taxation and immigration. "This is not just one school, Jews, or just
one city which have been affected but all of France," Hollande said
Stephane Rozes, head of CAP political consultancy, said the shootings
were unlikely to have a decisive impact on the election outcome as
all candidates had strongly condemned the violence, including far
right leader Marine Le Pen.
Le Pen said politics and the election campaign should be kept out at
times like this. "There is no more right or left, there is only the
French people, wounded in its heart."
(Reporting by Guillaume Serries and John Irish in Toulouse; Leigh
Thomas, Thierry Leveque, Nicolas Bertin, Lionel Laurent and Chine
Labbe in Paris; Jeffrey Heller and Maayan Lubel in Jerusalem; writing
by Daniel Flynn and Geert De Clercq; editing by Philippa Fletcher) (©
Thomson Reuters 2012. 03/19/12)
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