A gunman killed four people including three children after opening fire outside a Jewish school early Monday morning in the city of Toulouse in southern France. French authorities are currently seeking the shooter who escaped on a motorbike — the same motorbike on which a man rode away last week after killing three French paratroopers and critically wounding a fourth in two separate shootings in Toulouse and the nearby city of Montauban. All the soldiers were from a unit that had served in Afghanistan and were Caribbean or black.
Police said the killer initially used a 9mm gun that jammed, after which he switched to a .45 calibre weapon, the same gun that was used in all three attacks against the paratroopers.
Jonathan Sandler, a 30-year-old French-Israeli rabbi, and his two children, aged 3 and 6 years old, were killed this morning. Sandler had only joined the faculty of the Ozar Hatorah private Jewish secondary school last September. The Guardian says that the killer stepped over their bodies and then pursued the 7-year-old daughter of the principal, “grabbed her by the hair, pulled her to him and shot her at close range.” Myriam Monsonego died in her father’s arms. A 17-year-old boy was also wounded and is now in critical condition in the hospital but is expected to survive.
The last such lethal attack on Jews in France was in 1982, when the Chez Jo Goldenberg restaurant in Paris was bombed, killing six people and wounding 22. In 1980, a terrorist group threw a bomb at a Jewish synagogue in Paris, leaving four dead and wounding about 40. But young children were not the targets in these attacks.
Writing in the Guardian, Flachra Gibbons underscores how the killings have occurred at a time when French politicians have been using a “language of hatred”:
Claude Guéant, the interior minister who took personal control of the investigation, has been the most consistently xenophobic, championing the superiority of European Christian civilisation over lesser cultures who force their women to cover up – yes, observant Jews and Muslims, he meant you. The nadir came last week when Sarkozy’s new immigration chief Arno Klarsfeld – the eldest son, ironically, of Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld – called for a wall to be built between Greece and Turkey to save Europe from barbarian invaders.
Today in Toulouse we have been given a horrific illustration of where such delirious cynicism can lead. All of those who have been shot or killed in and around the city in the past eight days have had one thing in common. They are from visible minorities.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that all of the dead are Israeli-French nationals and will be buried in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin has condemned the crimes as a “a loathsome murder of Jews, which included small children.”
According to the BBC, investigators are now undertaking “one of the biggest manhunts” in recent history in French and pursuing two lines of inquiry, “an Islamist motive or the far right.” President Nicolas Sarkozy has declared the killings a “national tragedy” and placed the southwestern region of France on the highest level of terrorist alert, while guards have been stationed outside all faith-based schools, including those for Jewish and Muslim students. Sarkozy has said that an “anti-Semitic” motive appears obvious. All candidates in France’s presidential race including opposition Socialist candidate Francois Hollande and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen have suspended campaigning. Sarkozy has said that he will not resume campaigning until after Wednesday when he has attended the soldiers’ funerals.
France’s Jewish community is estimated to be about 500,000 and is the largest in Western Europe; Toulouse’s Jewish communities is one of the largest in France, says the Guardian. The country also has the largest Muslim population, of some 5 million.
Said one father in tears outside the Ozar Hatorah school,
“Just because we are different doesn’t mean we should be killed.”
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Photo: AP/Jacque Brinon