Monday, March 19, 2012

Rabbi, three children shot dead outside Jewish school in France

PARIS (Washington Post) — A gunman riding a motor scooter opened fire on a knot of children on their way to classes at a Jewish school in the southwest French city of Toulouse on Monday morning, killing at least four people and wounding a half-dozen more, authorities said.

The victims included a rabbi and his two children along with the daughter of the school principal, according to the local prosecutor. They were standing on the sidewalk at a gathering point near the school, called Ozar HaTorah, when an individual on a motor scooter drove up and began shooting with two weapons, the reports said. A helmet concealed the shooter’s face from onlookers as he sped away down the street.

The style of the assault was similar to that used in the killings of three French soldiers in two separate shootings in the past 10 days, French media reported, leading to speculation that a killer with political motivations may have been behind all three deadly attacks.

President Nicolas Sarkozy traveled to Toulouse immediately to display his concern. Sarkozy, his office said, was accompanied by Richard Pasquier, president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, the president’s office said.

“I am horrified by what happened this morning in Toulouse in front of the Jewish school,” France’s chief rabbi, Gilles Bernheim, said in a statement.

Similarly, the Israeli Foreign Ministry expressed its dismay in a statement relayed by news agencies. “We are horrified by this attack and we are confident the French authorities will shed light on this drama and bring those responsible for these murders to justice,” said a spokesman, Yigal Palmor.

In addition to the four killed, several others were wounded by the gunfire, authorities told reporters, including a 17-year-old youth who was described as hovering between life and death. The area of the shooting, in the La Roseraie residential neighborhood, was cordoned off by police. A neighboring Jewish cultural center was ordered closed.

Two other fatal shootings in the vicinity of Toulouse in recent days targeted French soldiers.

In the first, a soldier was shot and killed in on March 11 as he met a man who pretended to be interesting in buying the soldier’s motorcycle.

Four days later, two other soldiers were killed and a third was badly injured as they took money from an automatic teller in Montauban, about 30 miles to the north.

Police said the same weapon, probably a Colt .45 semiautomatic pistol of the kind once used by U.S. armed forces, was used in both shootings.

This gave rise to speculation that the killer might be motivated by French participation in the Afghan war. But authorities were careful not to assign any motive, saying they had few facts at their disposal.

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