French police are hunting for a gunman who shot dead four people, including three children, at a Jewish school in the city of Toulouse, prompting President Nicolas Sarkozy to put the region on its highest terrorism alert.
More than a 100 officers were dispatched to the area on Monday to search for the gunman, who is also a prime suspect in the killing of three soldiers in two seperate shootings last week.
As thousands held vigils for the latest victims, a police source told the AFP news agency that the same weapon and the same stolen scooter appeared to have been used in all three attacks.
All three attacks were carried out by the rider of a powerful, dark-coloured scooter, using a .45-calibre weapon, who witnesses described as calmly shooting his victims at point-blank range.
In carrying out the killings outside the Ozar Hatorah school on Monday, the shooter opened fire with a 9mm calibre weapon, which jammed.
He then produced a second weapon, a pistol of the same .45 calibre as that used in the other attacks, and chased children into the school to continue his spree.
Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from Toulouse, said that people were particularly concerned by the sense that a pattern of killings was emerging.
"[The gunman] shot at everything he could see, children and adults, and some children were chased into the school"
- Michel Valet, local prosecutor
"It would seem to be a huge coincidence otherwise; over the space of eight days you have three attacks, all of which involve an attacker on a motorcycle wearing a black helmet and the same sort of gun. So the evidence is starting to stack up."
Patrick Rouimi, the father of a child at the school, told the AFP news agency that the attacker opened fire on a group of people standing at a spot where children were picked up for school.
"He shot at everything he could see, children and adults, and some children were chased into the school," Michel Valet, the local prosecutor, told journalists.
Nicole Yardeni, president of the Council of Jewish Institutions in France, told Al Jazeera that the children who were killed were younger siblings of those who attend the school.
"There is an eight-year-old, a six-year-old and a three-year-old that are dead and a 17-year-old that [attends] the school, that is between life and death at the hospital," Yardeni said.
"He was shooting at them, even catching them and shooting them in their heads."
Sarkozy rushed to the school, ordering increased security at Jewish and Muslim buildings around Toulouse, while his prime minister ordered officials to "secure" all schools and religious buildings.
|The Israeli prime minister described the attack as "despicable murder of Jews" [AFP]
France has Europe's largest Jewish community, estimated at up to 700,000 people.
Speaking after meeting security officials, Sarkozy said "exceptional security measures" would be taken in the Midi-Pyrenees region and that it was being put on "scarlet" terror alert, the highest possible level.
"It is a national tragedy," said Sarkozy, denouncing the "savagery" of the attack, and vowing to find the killer.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, described the attack as "despicable murder of Jews".
"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," he said.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, the White House, and the Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat also issued statements condemning the attack.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies