France fears Jewish school gunman could strike again (REUTERS) writing by Geert De Clercq and Daniel Flynn; Editing by Anna Willard and Giles Elgood 03/20/12 10:20pm EDT)
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(Reuters) - French police stepped up the search on Tuesday for a
gunman who apparently filmed the scene as he shot dead three children
and a rabbi at point-blank range in a Jewish school, warning that he
had already killed twice last week and could strike again soon.
Authorities believe the scooter-riding gunman is a methodical,
trained marksman with "extremist" views who was also responsible for
last week´s fatal shootings of three soldiers of North African origin.
France´s President Nicolas Sarkozy has said racism appeared to be the
motivation for Monday´s school attack, which came just five weeks
before the first round of the presidential election.
Immigrants and Islam have been major themes of the campaign as
Sarkozy tries to win over the voters of far-right leader Marine Le
Pen. Analysts say the shootings could transform the election debate
and possibly tone down populist rhetoric.
"This is someone who has killed every four days, who is extremely
organized, who has a high-calibre weapon," Paris Prosecutor Francois
Molins told a news conference.
"We´re up against an extremely determined individual, who knows he´s
being hunted and could strike again."
Molins said the shooter wounded Rabbi Jonathan Sandler as he entered
the Ozar Hatorah school, where he cornered eight-year-old Myriam
Monsonego and shot her in the head. He then returned outside and shot
Sandler and his two children, who had rushed to his side, at point
France is home to the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe
and has a history of attacks on both groups, but Monday´s shooting
was the most deadly anti-Semitic attack on French soil in nearly 30
The police tightened security at religious sites, raising the terror
alert in the southern town to the highest level of ´scarlet´ for the
first time ever in France, and talked to gun clubs in an effort to
track down the killer.
"We will track down this monster," said Foreign Minister Alain Juppe,
who was due to fly to Israel with the bodies of the four Jewish
victims for their burial on Wednesday. "We will find him, bring him
to justice and punish him."
The gunman is also the prime suspect in the killing of three
paratroopers in two separate shootings last week in Toulouse and the
nearby town of Montauban. A fourth soldier of Caribbean origin was in
coma after Thursday´s shooting in Montauban.
In each attack, the gunman arrived on a Yamaha scooter and used the
same Colt 45 handgun. His face was hidden by a motorcycle helmet
during the attacks.
Interior Minister Claude Gueant said the gunman wore a "GoPro" camera
around the neck on Monday - a type often used by extreme sports
enthusiasts to record their exploits.
"This shows a profile of the murderer as someone who is very cold,
very determined, with precise gestures, and therefore very cruel,"
Anti-Islamist Anders Behring Breivik, who massacred 69 people in
Norway last summer, recommended in a manifesto he posted on the
Internet that aspiring mass murderers use the camera "to document
Police excluded any link to three former soldiers expelled from the
17th parachute regiment in Montauban in 2008 for neo-Nazi activities.
"GETTING READY FOR PRAYERS"
An overnight vigil was held at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in
Toulouse, a five-storey brick building in a leafy residential
neighborhood, where residents and parents left floral tributes and
candles in memory of the victims.
Mourners said Sandler´s widow, Eva, delivered a heart-rending speech,
accompanied by her surviving daughter.
"It was very difficult and painful to see the little coffins. We are
in shock," said Arie Bensemhoun, spokesman for the Jewish community
in Toulouse. "But we know we are sharing this grief with all our
citizens and perhaps something good will come from this for the
country. The time has come for healing."
Hearses carrying the bodies of the four victims, who hold dual French-
Israeli nationality, were surrounded by sobbing children in prayer
caps as they left the school to be transported to Paris. From there,
they will be flown to Israel for burial on Wednesday morning,
accompanied by Juppe, who was due to voice France´s determination to
catch their killer.
One girl who survived the attack spoke of her sheer terror as the
shots rang out through the school.
"The headmaster was shouting there had been a shooting and they put
us all together in a big room," the girl, accompanied by her mother,
told Reuters. "I didn´t see anything but I heard the shots. It was
terrifying. I thought he was coming for us."
Schools all over France observed a minute of silence.
"This has happened in Toulouse, in a religious school with children
from Jewish families, but it could have happened here. The same
killer could have come here, these children are exactly like you,"
Sarkozy said, attending the silent vigil in a Paris secondary school.
France´s Jewish umbrella group Crif, which is organizing a
remembrance march for the victims in Paris on Sunday, welcomed the
decision to suspend election campaigning until Wednesday when
political leaders of all colors were due to attend a burial ceremony
for the soldiers in Montauban.
Analysts said the killings would change the election debate.
"The tone of the campaign cannot go back to what it was," said
Dominique Reynie, head of Fondapol politics institute.
"The campaign was dominated by an aggressive tone and a strong degree
of populist rhetoric. This rhetoric will cease because there will be
voter demand for healing."
France´s far-right leader Marine Le Pen is running third in the race
for the presidency and this has helped to draw issues of race and
immigration into the election campaign.
The centre-right Sarkozy has tried to attract her voters with a
pledge to halve immigration and criticism of halal slaughter as he
lags Socialist Francois Hollande in voting intentions polls.
Some analysts said there would be a discussion about whether Sarkozy
has stirred feelings that led to the attack.
"There will be more debate, notably on whether the tension created in
society by Nicolas Sarkozy and the UMP (ruling party) has not somehow
provoked or facilitated this type of violence," said L´Express
magazine editor-in-chief Christophe Barbier.
Juppe said the campaign could not have triggered the shooting.
"Anti-Semitism exists in France, we have fought it for years," he
"Nobody should try to benefit in any way from this drama, which is in
no way linked to the electoral campaign."
(Additional reporting by Geert De Clercq, Emmanuel Jarry and Marine
Pennetier in Paris and Balazs Koranyi in Oslo; writing by Geert De
Clercq and Daniel Flynn; Editing by Anna Willard and Giles Elgood) (©
Thomson Reuters 2012. 03/20/12)
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