The shocking massacre in the courtyard of the Jewish school in Toulouse rattled France on Monday. No one in the country believed that, after the atrocities of the Holocaust and the Nazi conquest, French children would ever be murdered in cold blood over their religion. But that's what appears to have happened this morning in south-west France.
The grisly descriptions refer to a gunman chasing Jewish children into a courtyard in order to gun them down. "This is a national tragedy," declared French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who arrived at the scene. Sarkozy is a leader who chose to start his term by delivering a speech next to a monument commemorating victims of the resistance who were executed by the Germans in 1944. Now, toward the end of his term, he is dealing with an act of terror against Jewish children, the likes of which France has not witnessed for more than half a century.
The man-hunt for the assailant is being conducted as these lines are written. Police and investigators who deal with the War on Terror are trying to track down the terrorist as quickly as possible. Initial investigations suggest the assailant planned the attack after collecting intelligence information. Officials are also considering the possibility that this gunman may also be responsible for the lethal shooting of French soldiers in Toulouse and its environs in recent days; perhaps, investigators suspect, these are crimes committed by a right-wing extremist.
France's interior minister, who also arrived on the scene, is expected to remain in Toulouse for "as long as it takes," particularly in response to the sense of fear and insecurity that gripped the region Monday morning.
Apart from the man-hunt to track down the assailant, security forces in France implemented Monday morning emergency steps to beef up security at Jewish institutions across the state. Entryways to most streets that host a Jewish school were blocked to incoming traffic, extra security personnel were deployed at Jewish schools and entrance to Jewish institutions was only permitted to persons with identifying documents. All were preemptive steps taken in an attempt to forestall another attack.
There is, of course, an inevitable political dimension to this terrible tragedy. The murder of the Jewish teacher and children occurred just over a month before French citizens elect a new president.
In light of the attack, the leader of the polls, socialist Franois Hollande, announced he would be suspending his campaign. The far-right candidate Marine Le Pen requested to cancel a television debate he was scheduled to appear in. President Sarkozy took the appropriate step of arriving on the scene, accompanied by the president of the umbrella organization of French Jewish organizations. Sarkozy, of course, is busy with affairs of state, and is also trailing in the polls. Yet, no doubt, his proven ability to handle crises will strengthen his candidacy at this dramatic moment.
It is too early to forecast the influence of this tragic event on the electoral race, but it is likely to influence the course of the campaign.
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