A lone gunman burst into a Jewish school in Toulouse today, opening fire with two handguns and killing a rabbi, his two sons and a school girl.
The attack took place around 8am - just before the start of lessons – at the Ozar Hatorah junior high and high school, in a quiet residential neighbourhood in the north west of the city.
Witnesses described the gunman as chasing small children and "looking to kill".
The victims were thought to be 30-year-old rabbi, named locally as Jonathan Sandler who taught Yiddish at the school, his three and six-year-old sons and an eight-year-old school girl. A 17-year-old man was seriously injured.
Officials confirmed that a powerful .45-caliber handgun used by the killer had also been fired in two other deadly motorcycle attacks in south western France over the last week. The news fueled suspicions that a serial killer was targeting French minorities.
Last Thursday a gunman on a dark-coloured motorbike killed two uniformed paratroopers and critically injured another at a bank machine in Montauban, 30 miles from Toulouse.
Four days earlier a gunman on a similarly coloured motorcycle shot and killed another paratrooper in Toulouse.
The dead and injured in those attacks were all paratroopers of North African and Caribbean origin.
Parisian police are also investigating threats against two synagogues in Paris last week. A police official said as yet there were no apparent links between those threats and today's shooting.
French prosecutors were studying possible terrorist links but the motive for all three attacks was unclear.
Speaking of today's attack, Toulouse prosecutor Michel Valet described how a man arrived in front of the school on a motorcycle or scooter.
Valet said: “He shot at everything he had in front of him, children and adults… The children were chased inside the school.”
Nicole Yardeni, a local Jewish official who has watched
a security video of the attack described the shooter as "determined,
athletic and well-toned." She said he wore a helmet with the visor down.
"You see a man park his motorcycle, start to shoot, enter the school grounds and chase children to catch one and shoot a bullet into her head…It's unbearable to watch and you can't watch anymore after that. He was looking to kill."
Nicolas Comte, a police union official in Paris, said to handle a
.45-caliber handgun plus a second gun, the shooter must have been used to holding weapons.
"He knows what he's doing, like an ex-military guy", Comte said.
An unauthorised Paris-based police official said the killer also used a .35 calibre weapon in today's attack, adding that at least 15 shots were fired.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy rushed to Toulouse to
visit the school with Richard Prasquier, the president of CRIF - an umbrella
group representing Jewish organizations.
Sarkozy said: “This is a day of national tragedy… The barbary, the savagery, the cruelty cannot win. Hate cannot win. The nation is much stronger...We will find him.”
Security was increased at schools and Jewish and Islamic buildings across France in the wake of the attack.
In Jerusalem, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said “whether it was a terror attack or a hate crime, the loss of life is unacceptable.”
The Israeli Foreign Ministry confirmed that all the dead had duel French-Israeli citizenship and all are to be buried in Israel.
Special prayers were offered at a Paris synagogue, attended by Sarkozy, and at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. A minute of silence in all French schools is to held tomorrow. A carnival in Toulouse was cancelled and vigils were being held in Toulouse and Paris to honor the victims.