At least four people, including three children, have been killed in a shooting outside a Jewish school in the southwestern French city of Toulouse, officials say.
Monday’s incident occurred as children and their parents were arriving at the Ozar Hatorah school, in the northeast of the city, for the start of the school day.
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The gunman drove away on a scooter, a national police officer said.
Patrick Rouimi, the father of a child at the school, told AFP news agency that a man 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.
The daughter of the school’s director was seriously injured in the attack, said Charles Ben Semoun, a parent of another child in the school.
Nicole Yardeni, president of the Council of Jewish Institutions in France, told Al Jazeera that the children who were killed were the 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 that a parent was also killed.
She said that the gunman was “extremely determined because cameras showed [the attacker] running after the children and shooting at them”.
“He was shooting at them, even catching them and shooting them in their heads,” she said.
President Nicolas Sarkozy rushed to the school, ordering increased security at Jewish and Muslim buildings around Toulouse, while his prime minister ordered officials to “secure” all school and religious buildings in France, which has Europe’s largest Jewish community, estimated at up to 700,000 people.
“It is a national tragedy,” said Sarkozy, denouncing the “savagery” of the attack, and vowing to find the killer or killers.
Gilles Bernheim, the grand rabbi of France, who also travelled to the city, said he was “horrified” and “stunned” by what had happened.
|A local prosecutor said the gunman “opened fire at everything that moved” [AFP]
Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, said in a statement that he was “deeply shocked”.
“Only a person possessing demonic evil could conduct such a terrible murder of small children at a school,” his office quoted him as saying.
An Israeli relative of the deceased adult named him as Jonathan Sandler, originally from Jerusalem, who had moved to France last year.
The gunman shot the man outside the school before one of his weapons jammed and he then entered the school grounds where he sprayed the area with bullets, a local prosecutor said.
Reuven Rivlin, the speaker in the Israeli parliament, said the attack was against Jews and Israel and should alert the international community.
“Jewish children and a teacher were murdered this morning because they were Jewish,” he said in remarks broadcast by military radio.
“This just shows the horrors of anti-Semitism, which also manifests in anti-Israeli (acts)… This should be a warning signal to the world.”
Police in southwestern France launched a major manhunt last week after the killing of three paratroopers and the wounding of another in two separate, but connected incidents.
Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Paris, said that people were particularly concerned because the recent incidents pointed towards a possible pattern emerging.
“The fear is that this incident, while horrific in itself, my not have been isolated. We may actually be looking at the work of some kind of serial killer.
“Towards the end of last week there was a shooting in which three [paratroopers] were shot dead… Again the attacker was on a motorcycle,” Rowland said.
Agnes Poirier, a columnist and political commentator from Paris, told Al Jazeera that the gunman has been described by witnesses as “extremely efficient and cold”.
“It’s shocking and mysterious; even Nickolas Sarkozy says that there are striking similarities with the very strange cold-blooded assassination of French paratroopers that happened twice near and in Toulouse in the last weeks,” Poirier said.
“It is a clear anti-Semitic crime that happened this morning in Toulouse. What the police have to establish very quickly is what the connection is with last week’s shootings, and that is the priority for Sarkozy.”