France was in shock Monday after four people,
including a father and his two daughters, were gunned down at a
Jewish school in the southern city of Toulouse, bringing to seven the
number of people killed by a suspected single assailant in the area
within a week.
The gunman struck shortly after 8 am (0700 GMT), as children were arriving at Ozar Hatorah secondary school.
Alighting from his scooter, the attacker, who was wearing a helmet, opened fire on children and parents assembled outside the school. He then entered the packed schoolyard, where he continued firing with a second weapon, before making off on the scooter.
"He fired on everything in front of him, whether parents or children," Toulouse prosecutor Michel Valet told reporters.
A 30-year-old religion teacher, his two daughters aged 6 and 3, and the daughter of the school principal, whose age was given variously by officials as eight or 10, were killed instantly. A 17-year-old boy was taken to hospital in a critical condition.
One parent who witnessed the attack said the man was "shooting at point-blank range, not even a metre away (from his victims)."
Panicked teachers locked the other children in classrooms and prayed with them while police, parents and ambulances rushed to the scene.
"We were all very shocked," a young schoolgirl identified as Alexia told BFM TV, with her mother.
Security has been stepped up around Jewish schools and synagogues across the country.
France's chief rabbi, Giles Bernheim, said he was "horrified" by the attack, which the president of the Union of Jewish students in France, Jonathan Hayoun, called "clearly anti-Semitic."
President Nicolas Sarkozy, who travelled to Toulouse, termed the attack a "national tragedy" and vowed the killer would be brought to justice. "It's not just your children. It's all our children," he said, expressing his condolences to the victims' families.
Interior Minister Claude Gueant and Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande both described the attack as anti-Semitic.
Hollande, who also travelled to Toulouse, said all France was affected by the "appalling act."
Sarkozy, Gueant and the Toulouse prosecutor all linked the shooting to two attacks last week on soldiers in Toulouse and the nearby town of Montauban.
On March 12, a gunman - also travelling by scooter - shot dead a soldier in Toulouse that he had arranged to meet under a false pretext.
Four days later, a man on a scooter using the same automatic pistol opened fire on three soldiers on the street near a military base in Montauban, about 50 kilometres from Toulouse, killing two and seriously injuring a third.
Valet said one of the two weapons used in the school attack was of the same calibre as the gun used in last week's attacks. AFP news agency quoted police sources as saying the same weapon had been used.
"We will find him," said Sarkozy, who was accompanied by Bernheim and the president of the Council Representing Jewish Institutions in France.
Sarkozy called for a minute's silence to be held in French schools on Tuesday. In Toulouse and in Paris, the Jewish community planned protests marches later Monday.
Toulouse Mayor Pierre Cohen said all public celebrations had been called off this week for fear the gunman might strike again. "There's a sense of anxiety," he told BFM TV.
In Israel the Foreign Ministry said it was "following with shock the news from France."
"We trust the French authorities to shed full light on this crime and to bring the perpetrators to justice," spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso issued a statement condemning the "hateful crime."
The motive for the attacks was unknown. Several French media have speculated about a possible link with France's military presence in Afghanistan, given that Montauban is home to a regiment of paratroopers, some of whom have served in Afghanistan.
Others have speculated about a purely racial motive. The three soldiers killed in Toulouse and Montauban had either North African or Caribbean origins.
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