French anti-terrorist prosecutors have linked a shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse with two deadly attacks on soldiers in the same region last week.
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 after Monday’s school shooting left four people dead, including three children.
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Politicians and justice officials noted similarities between Monday’s incident and the March 11 murder of a soldier in the same southwestern city and another shooting four days later.
In that attack, three soldiers were shot, two fatally, in the garrison town of Montauban, just 46km away from Toulouse.
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 Montauban, witnesses told how the killer had time to turn over one of the wounded men who was trying to crawl away and fire three more shots into him before getting back on his scooter and making his escape.
The first victim, a 30-year-old non-commissioned officer, was dressed in civilian clothes when he was shot dead in a Toulouse street just eight days ago.
In Monday’s killings, the shooter opened fire outside the school 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.
“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.”
French 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.
France has Europe’s largest Jewish community, estimated at up to 700,000 people.
|A local prosecutor said the gunman “opened fire at everything that moved” [AFP]|
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.
Benjamin 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.