French police see connections between terror attacks on paratroopers and Jewish school

Three schoolchildren and their teacher were killed by a lone gunman in the city of Toulouse, in southwestern France on March 19. The gunman opened fire outside a Jewish high school, killing at least four people. The shooting took place outside the Ozar-Hatorah secondary school in a residential area near a synagogue. Police said the gunman opened fire on a group of parents and children outside the school before entering the playground where he continued to shoot people at close range to continue the mayhem.

The killings occurred at approximately 8:10 a.m. local time. Police say that the alleged gunman, who escaped on a motorscooter, used a 9 mm pistol, the same type of weapon used in two attacks on soldiers in the same region in the past 10 days, as well as an 11.43 mm weapon.

A  paratrooper, not in uniform, was killed in Toulouse just over a week ago and two more in Montauban, 28 miles north of Toulouse, on March 15. A third soldier, also shot at close range in Montauban, is recovering in hospital. All of the soldiers were of either North African or Caribbean origin. A spokesman for the Jewish community of the Pyrenees region said that he could not confirm whether the attack was inspired by anti-Semitism.

A local prosecutor, Michel Valet, said the gunman first opened fire with a 9 mm weapon outside the school, "firing at everything in front on him." When he ran out of ammunition, he continued shooting with an 11.43 mm weapon inside the school before fleeing. A witness inside the school told French television "I saw at once a man in a helmet -- not a military helmet, a motorcycle helmet -- who had come into the playground of the school a few feet from the entrance. He was shooting not haphazardly but directly as close as possible to the head of those, adults and pupils, around the entrance of the school."

President Sarkozy deplored the violence. Interrupting his re-election campaign, Sarkozy flew to Toulouse where he denounced the "appalling tragedy,” adding "The whole French republic is touched by this abominable drama."

The French interior ministry ordered all police headquarters across the country to provide additional security at synagogues and other Jewish centers. Leaders of the various political parties also expressed their disgust and mourning in the wake of the killings. Sarkozy has called for a national moment of silence on March 20 in mourning

The dead have been identified Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and his sons Aryeh, 6, and Gavriel, 3.5, as well as 8-year-old Miriam Monsonegro, daughter of the school director. Two other students are now fighting for their lives at a local hospital. Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim of France said he was "horrified" by what happened. "I am bruised in my body and my soul," he added.

Catholic Archbishop Robert Le Gall of Toulouse was horrified, saying “After the assassination of paratroopers in recent days in Toulouse and Montauban, which has deeply affected our region, a further step was taken in horror this morning with the murder of four people including three children to Ozar Hatorah Jewish school...We are currently in New York for three days of meetings with our Jewish brothers with a delegation of a dozen bishops led by Cardinal Vingt-Trois; our emotions are very high. We express our profound sympathy to the families and our prayers over this horror.” A prayer service is scheduled at the famed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris to mark the passing of the victims.

Archbishop Le Gall was referring to the killings over the last ten days in Toulouse and nearby Montauban in which off-duty French paratroopers were killed under similar circumstances. On March 16, three French paratroopers were shot dead by a man in the town of Montauban, near Toulouse, when a gunman on a black motorbike pulled up at a cash machine and opened fire. An 11.43 mm. weapon was used in that attack as well, according to the news reports. A forensic examination of the shell casings left at both of the scenes shows that the same weapon was used in both attacks.

Marc Sztulman, general secretary of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France said "It's not a shooting, it's a massacre...It is unclear at this point whether this is an anti-Semitic act. One of two things, either we attacked a school as a symbol Republican or we attacked this establishment because he is Jewish. But in both cases, whatever the intention of its author, it is an outrage that must be punished as such. For now, the Jewish community will take steps to enhance security.” France’s Minister of Interior, Claude Gueant, visited the scene of the most recent crime and instructed police "prefectures throughout France, particularly in the Southwest, to strengthen surveillance and vigilance around places of Jewish education."

A spokesman for Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that France is expected to shed light on the killing in Toulouse and bring the murderers to justice. Israeli radio and television stations interrupted their regular programs to temporarily provide details of the attack. The President of the Union of Jewish Students of France (UEJF), Jonathan Hayoun, called on the French government to "strengthen the security of Jewish synagogues and schools," and added "The broadcasting of anti-Semitic and racist speech today creates a climate of insecurity for Jews in France," in a statement.
 

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