One of the biggest manhunts in French history was under way last night after a gunman attacked a Jewish school in Toulouse and coldly murdered a teacher and three small children at point-blank range.
France was left in a state of shock by the brutal nature of the executions of small children, carried out by a man who escaped on a high-powered scooter. One of the guns used was the same weapon used by a gunman to murder three French soldiers in two attacks in the Toulouse area last week.
Yesterday's victims were said to include a 30-year- old teacher, his daughters aged six and three and a girl of eight. Investigators said that harrowing film from CCTV showed that the gunman chased one of the girls, caught her and shot her in the head.
Every available detective and internal security agent in France was mobilised last night to try to track the gunman before he kills again. Although the hunt has been placed under the control of the national "anti-terrorism squad", investigators believe that the gunman may be a deranged but calculating lone fanatic – motivated by extreme Islamist views or racism.
All three French soldiers shot at close range in Toulouse and Montauban last week were of North African origin. Yesterday's attack which took place just after 8am as children were being dropped off, targeted an unmarked Jewish school in Jolimont, a leafy northern suburb of Toulouse.
Witnesses said that they saw the gunman, dressed all in black, fire a pistol at close range at the heads of the teacher and a group of children standing outside the Ozar Hatorah college. When his first gun jammed, the attacker produced another weapon and chased children into the school.
Several of them were seriously wounded and a boy aged 17, was said to be fighting for his life last night.
President Nicolas Sarkozy said yesterday: "Whoever did this should know that everything, absolutely everything, will be done to track him down."