TOULOUSE, France - Jewish institutions around the world are stepping up security after a gunman killed four people - three of them children - at a Jewish school in the southwestern French city of Toulouse yesterday.
French police reopened the area where four people were killed shortly after 8:00 A.M. outside a Jewish school on Monday, and are investigating whether the gun used for the murder of a rabbi and three children was also used to murder two Muslim French paratroopers last week.
"All the shooting took less than a minute," said Baruch Sabag, a teacher at the Jewish school who ran inside the building along with some 100 children and teachers who were standing in the courtyard when the shooting took place. "We hid in the building as soon as we heard the shots and only after ten minutes, when the police arrived, were we told we could go outside."
"We didn’t know what was going on," said David Gadage, a parent of one of the school's students. "We had only just heard gunshots and within seconds the terrorist had disappeared. We are all in a state of shock right now. This is a quiet area and there have never been problems of anti-Semitism here before. We actually moved here because of the area's peacefulness and because, unlike in other places, there are no problems here with the Muslim immigrants."
Initial ballistic investigations suggest that the gun used in Monday morning's attack was the same gun used to murder two French paratroopers last week, and was apparently used in a similar way.
Four days ago, two paratroopers were killed in nearby Montauban, and another paratrooper was killed eight days ago in Toulouse. The dead and injured were all of North African and Caribbean origin.
The fact that some of the soldiers were of North African descent led French police to investigate the possibility that the perpetrators of Monday's attack were former soldiers who are members of a Neo-Nazi group. Another possibility being investigated is that a radical Islamic group is responsible for the attack, yet as of Monday night no organization has claimed responsibility.
Gunman opens fire on Jewish school in France
Toulouse's Roseraie quarter, where the Jewish school is situated, is a quiet middle-class area, not far from the city center. The neighborhood is home to a Jewish community of about 20,000 people. The school also serves as a local synagogue and the site is home to a kollel for avrechim (a yeshiva for married students), who also work as teachers at the school.
About 200 students study at the small, private, religious school, which has no exterior signage to indicate that it is a Jewish institution. Intelligence work was apparently undertaken prior to the attack. The gunman took advantage of the fact that, despite the tall gates surrounding the school and security cameras at the entrance, no security guard was standing at the site. In the past, French schools were appointed armed security guards but a few months ago it was decided to decrease that level of security and cancel the guards.
Guy Ben-Sasson, a member of the Jewish community that arrived at the school minutes after the attack with two children who study there, said, "We are terribly disappointed with the police and community who did not ensure the [school was] better secured. This is a problem for the Jews, but not only for the Jews. There is an armed, possibly crazy man at large in this city and no one knows who it is. We have always felt safe here and now there's a sense that we have been turned into targets."
Earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the attack as a "despicable murder," and said he is certain that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his government "will do everything in their power to find the murderer." Netanyahu added, "I promise that Israel will help France in this task."
The shooting on Monday took place near a synagogue on the campus of the Otzar Hatorah school, where children and their parents usually wait for a bus that takes them to the various Jewish preschools in the area. The victim, Jonathan Sandler, a Jewish studies teacher at the school, was waiting for the bus with his two children when the shooting occurred. French prosecutor Michel Valet said that those killed were Sandler, 30, and his 3-year-old and 6-year-old sons. He said another child, between 8 and 10 years old, was also killed, and a 17-year-old seriously wounded.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement that "the Israeli Embassy in Paris, as well as the Israeli Consulate in Marseille, have contacted the bereaved families and learned of their desire to bring their loved ones to Israel for burial. The Government of Israel has therefore decided to transfer the coffins to Israel as soon as possible, with the cooperation and assistance of Israel's representatives in France and in coordination with the French authorities."
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