19 March 2012
Four people, among them three children, died when a man opened fire on a group of students and teachers at a Jewish school in Toulouse, in southern France on Monday morning. They were reportedly 30-year-old school teacher Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his five and three-year-old sons, and a ten-year-old school boy. A 17-year-old boy was badly injured in the attack.
The incident happened on Monday morning at the drop-off point for the nursery- and primary-age children of the Ozar Hatorah school, which is located in the northeast of the city. The gunman escaped from the scene. He was wearing a helmet and fled on a black scooter.
The shooting comes a week after incidents in Toulouse and Montauban in which three people were killed and a fourth injured. The gunman also escaped on a scooter following that attack. The killer was reportedly armed with two weapons, one of which was the same .45 caliber as that fired in the attack on the paratroopers in Montauban. The AFP news agency said the gunman initially used a 9 mm weapon but it jammed so he switched to a .45 calibre gun.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy immediately traveled to Toulouse, together with the president of the French Jewish umbrella organization CRIF, Richard Prasquier. Sarkozy said it was "much too early" to know if there is a definite link. to the other shootings, adding: "Faced with this kind of toll, we can say that the French Republic as a whole has been hit by this appalling tragedy." Sarkozy placed the South-West of France on the highest level of terrorism alert.
The Socialist candidate for the French presidency, François Hollande, condemned the shooting in the strongest terms, saying it was an "anti-Semitic and abhorrent attack." He also traveled to Toulouse to pay his respects to the victims and their families.
World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder reacted with horror and shock to the attack, saying: “Today, Jews everywhere in the world are weeping in sorrow and disgust in the face of this despicable terrorist attack. Targeting children is a particularly sick and vile act, and nothing can justify it. This attack is an attack on all of us. We have full confidence that the French authorities will do everything in their power to quickly hunt down the perpetrator of this horrible crime and bring him to justice. Jews in all countries stand shoulder to shoulder with French Jewry. We weep for the victims, and our hearts go out to their families,” Lauder added. The WJC president praised the show of solidarity by senior French politicians in the wake of the attack.
Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said in a statement: “While many of the details are still emerging, it appears that this was a premeditated attack with the intention to murder Jewish children. We hope the authorities will spare no resources in apprehending the perpetrator. Whoever did this is looking to target the Jewish community at its weakest point, its youth, in the hopes of spreading fear throughout the community. They will not suceed."
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, declared: "There is today an urgent need to ensure that appropriate security measures are put in place at all Jewish institutions in Europe to ensure that the safety of Jews on this continent is not placed in jeopardy."
Claude Guéant, the French interior minister, has ordered security to be tightened around all Jewish schools in the country. France's chief rabbi Gilles Bernheim said he was "horrified" and "stunned" by the attack. The Israeli government said in a first reaction that it trusted the French authorities "to shed full light on this tragedy and bring the perpetrators to justice".
The head of the French Muslim Council, Mohammed Moussaou, expressed the "solidarity of all French Muslims with the Jewish community in France."
The killings sparked widespread horror in France, prompting the candidates in the April presidential election to put their campaigns temporarily on hold as a mark of respect to the victims. In Paris, Sarkozy and Hollande attended a service at the Nazareth synagogue. They were joined by green candidate Eva Joly who had been on a silent march at Place de la République organised by the Jewish student union UEJF (see picture)
On Tuesday afternoon, Sarkozy was to receive a delegation of French Jewish and Muslim leaders, including CRIF President Richard Prasquier, at the Elysée Palace in Paris. They were to be accompanied by WJC President Ronald S. Lauder.
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