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National tragedy, political drama (HAŽARETZ NEWS) By Sefy Hendler 03/20/12)Source: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/national-tragedy-political-drama-1.419611 HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
The shocking slaughter in the courtyard of a Jewish school in Toulouse yesterday has rattled France. Many thought that after the Holocaust and the Nazi occupation, French children would never again be murdered in cold blood because of their religion, but that´s just what appears to have happened this morning in the southwest of the country.

The grisly descriptions refer to a gunman chasing Jewish children into a courtyard in order to gun them down. French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared the fatal shooting of three children and a teacher to be a "national tragedy."

Sarkozy started his term by delivering a speech next to a monument commemorating victims of the resistance who were executed by the Germans in 1944. Now, toward the end of his term, he is dealing with an act of terror against Jewish children, the likes of which France hasn´t witnessed for more than half a century.

Police and investigators who deal with the war on terror are trying to track down the assailant as quickly as possible. The gunman comes across as a terrorist who planned the attack after collecting intelligence information before he reached the school. One suspicion under consideration is that this could be the same gunman responsible for last week´s lethal shooting of French soldiers of North African or Caribbean descent in a city near Toulouse. Perhaps these are crimes committed by a right-wing extremist.

Another theory being investigated is that the school shooting was carried out by an Islamic operative who was protesting the French role in Afghanistan, said well-placed sources in the French Jewish community. But that´s just one of several theories. French Interior Minister Claude Gueant is expected to coordinate the investigation from Toulouse for "as long as it takes," Sarkozy said, as a sense of fear and insecurity gripped the region yesterday.

In addition to searching for the gunman, French security forces also implemented emergency measures intended to beef up security at Jewish institutions across the country in an effort to prevent another attack.

There is, of course, an inevitable political dimension to this terrible tragedy. The shooting took place a little more than a month before the citizens of France will elect a new president.

Sarkozy and Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande canceled campaign events, as did far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, and headed for Toulouse. Sarkozy appeared with the president of CRIF, the umbrella organization of French Jewish organizations. Sarkozy, of course, is busy with affairs of state, and is also trailing in the polls.

Yet there is little doubt his proven ability to handle crises will strengthen his candidacy. It´s too early to predict precisely how this tragedy will affect the race, but it is likely to have some influence. (© Copyright 2012 Ha´aretz 03/20/12)


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