March 19, 2012
A man opened fire outside a Jewish school in southwest France on Monday morning, killing four people, three of them children, and wounding another, officials said. It was the third killing of unarmed people in the region in little over a week, and the police said the same gun was used in all three attacks.
Witnesses said that a man fled the scene in Toulouse on a motorbike. Last week, a man on a motorbike killed three French paratroopers and critically wounded another in two separate shootings, police officials said. The soldiers were all Arab or black, but were paratroopers from a unit that fought in Afghanistan. According to the police, the gunman initially used a 9-millimeter weapon, but it jammed, so he switched to a .45-caliber gun as he went into the school. The .45-caliber weapon was the one the police said was used to shoot the paratroopers last week.
There has been no claim of responsibility for any of the murders, which the French police are treating as acts of terrorism.
Michel Valet, the local prosecutor, said a rabbi, his two children and another child were killed in the attack and a 17-year-old boy was seriously wounded. The killer “shot at everything he could see, children and adults, and some children were chased into the school,” Mr. Valet said.
The attack is the worst on Jews in France since 1982, when the Chez Jo Goldenberg restaurant in Paris was bombed at lunchtime, killing six people and wounding 22. In 1980, a terrorist group threw a bomb at a Jewish synagogue on Rue Copernic in Paris, killing four people and wounding about 40.
Monday’s shooting brought a climate of fear to the region, with the French state ordering increased surveillance of all religious schools. It also brought immediate condemnations from President Nicolas Sarkozy and from his main rival for the French presidency, François Hollande, both of whom broke off their political campaigns to rush to the scene.
Uniformed police officers were seen leading away stunned survivors after the early morning attack. Other officers set up barricades and sealed off the entrance to the school, located behind high white walls with security cameras at the entrance.
Mr. Sarkozy arrived in Toulouse late Monday morning with officials and Jewish leaders. He called the shooting a “national tragedy” and ordered a minute’s silence to be observed across France on Tuesday at 11 a.m.
The Israeli press identified Monday’s victims as Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and two of his sons, Arye, 6, and Gabriel, 3. The fourth person killed was Miriam Monsonego, 8, who is the daughter of the school principal, Yaacov Monsonego. Rabbi Sandler came to Toulouse from Jerusalem with his family last September to teach religious studies at the school. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the rabbi was a French citizen but that his wife was Israeli and that their children had dual nationality.
Another student, 17, a boy, was said to be wounded and in critical condition at a local hospital.
The French minister of the interior, Claude Guéant, said he was “submerged with emotion” over this “act of anti-Semitism” and ordered the police to intensify security around Jewish schools, according to a press spokesman. France has some 300 Jewish schools, news reports said.
Later, Prime Minister François Fillon was quoted as saying the enhanced security measures would be broadened to include all schools and religious buildings.
The Interior Ministry spokesman, Pierre-Henry Brandet, said the shootings occurred outside the Jewish school Ozar Hatorah. Ozar Hatorah is a Jewish society promoting religious education among young people, especially in the Middle East, northern Africa and among the Sephardic Jewish community in France, which has the largest number of Jews in Europe, estimated to be at least 550,000. A promotional video posted in 2010 showed students engaged in academic and religious studies.
The authorities have been hunting for the gunman who killed the soldiers since last week, and the military has told soldiers not to wear their uniforms in public.
The wave of killings has stunned France, prompting tense speculation about its cause. Even before the shooting on Monday, there was discussion about a possible racial or ethnic component to the attacks. “There is a common point to all the victims of this dark series of cold-blooded murders: they are all related to communities,” including both Muslims and Jews, wrote Pierre Haski in a posting Monday on the Rue89 news Web site. “Whether they wore the uniform of the French Army or were children, their ‘difference’ made them targets.”
Speculation over the motives for the killings ranged from anger at Muslims fighting in Afghanistan and anti-Semitism to a hatred of immigrants.
Condemnation of the killings was general. In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel condemned the “despicable murder of Jews, including small children,” as “a savage crime.” Speaking to his Likud party, he said: “It is too early to determine exactly what the background to the murderous act was, but we certainly cannot rule out the option that it was motivated by violent and murderous anti-Semitism.”