France's Largest Manhunt in Recent Years Underway for Toulouse Shooter

Thousands taking part in effort to find shooter and collaborators; security beefed up at Jewish institutions; coffins being flown to Israel on Tuesday night for burial.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

TOULOUSE - Following Monday's shooting attack at a Jewish school in Toulouse in which four people were killed, France is on its highest state of alert since 2003. Thousands of police and internal intelligence service investigators (DCRI) are engaged in an intense and widespread effort to identify the shooter and his collaborators. French media outlets are reporting the manhunt as the largest in France in recent years.

Some 160 police investigators, along with DCRI agents, are involved in the probe, in addition to hundreds of police officers engaged in security operations. The chief prosecutor of the Toulouse region, Michelle Valle, said on Tuesday: "We have investigated hundreds of people, but have yet to carry out arrests."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, flanked by France's Education Minister Luc Chatel, speaks with pupils of Francois Couperin secondary school in Paris.
The funeral for victims of the shooting at a Toulouse Jewish school in Jerusalem, March 21, 2012.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin speaking at a funeral for victims of the Toulouse school shooting, March 21, 2012.
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy, flanked by France's Education Minister Luc Chatel, speaks with pupils of Francois Couperin secondary school in Paris.Credit: AFP
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The funeral for victims of the shooting at a Toulouse Jewish school in Jerusalem, March 21, 2012. Credit: Shuki Lerer
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Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin speaking at a funeral for victims of the Toulouse school shooting, March 21, 2012. Credit: Shuki Lerer
Toulouse

The inquiry has been transferred to Paris, where the general prosecutor Francois Molins held a press conference on Tuesday and announced that three former French soldiers, who were dismissed from the army in 2008 due to their membership in a neo-Nazi organization, had been questioned and released. He said that police are continuing to pursue a neo-Nazi line of inquiry but that there were other possibilities, including that the attack was carried out by Islamists. On the other hand, the mode of operation of the shooter does not match extremist Islamist groups because no responsibility has been taken for the attack.

"This is a very determined person, who is acting in the same way and is planning his steps in advance," Molins said, adding that police were convinced that all three recent shootings in southwestern France were connected and that the shooter may strike again.

A woman cries next to convoy carrying coffins of victims of Toulouse attack, March 20, 2012.Credit: AFP

Around the three Jewish schools and 12 synagogues in Toulouse, security has been enhanced with armed police and Jewish volunteers. Police were also stationed around Muslim schools. France's interior minister said that local authorities would be ordered to increase security at all schools in southwestern France, even after the shooter is caught.

Ariyeh Ben Simhon, the president of the Jewish community in Toulouse, said that "the government needs to understand that the Jews are in a situation in which they are always a target and I hope that [the government] does not lower its guard in two or three months. It is clear that everything we are talking about now is connected to the current political situation."

On Tuesday afternoon, a convoy carried the coffins of the victims to an airport in Toulouse where a French Air Force plane sent by President Nicolas Sarkozy was waiting to take them to Paris. On Tuesday evening, a memorial service will be held at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, attended by Sarkozy and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon. Later, the coffins will be put on an El Al plane and flown to Israel where they will be buried in Jerusalem. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe will arrive in Israel for the funerals.

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