Jerusalem, Mar. 19 – A gunman on a motorcycle shot dead three children and a teacher Monday at a Jewish school in what appears to be a racially motivated shooting in the southern French city of Toulouse.
The gunman opened fire as students were being dropped off at school and then fled the scene. The victims were identified as school teacher Yonatan Sandler, 30; his sons Aryeh, 3 and Gavriel, 6; and 8-year-old Miriam Monsonego, daughter of the school principal. A teenage student is in critical condition in a local hospital.
French media outlets reported later in the day that police sought three neo-nazi ex-paratroopers in connection with the shooting.
French leaders condemned the attack, with President Nicolas Sarkozy, cabinet ministers and opposition leaders immediately flying to Toulouse to express their shock and give support to the local community.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said later in the day that the killers would be brought to justice and offered Israeli aid in apprehending the perpetrators.
"I am sure the government of [French President] Nicolas Sarkozy will do everything possible to find the killer and we will help with that," he said.
The southern city of Toulouse is home to 20,000 Jews; France’s total Jewish population is about 600,000. The local TLT television station reported that the gunman had to have gone out of his way to target the Ozar Hatorah school, located on a quiet side street with no sign. For a long time, the Jewish community in Toulouse has taken security steps to protect educational institutions by keeping them anonymous.
“This targeting (of) a Jewish school makes it seem like it’s definitely a racist incident,” France 24 television reporter Chris Bockman reported. It was the worst recent attack on a Jewish target in France since Palestinian terrorists attacked a Paris restaurant in 1982, killing six people and wounding 22 more.
“We will do whatever we can do to secure the Jewish schools in France,” French ambassador to Israel Christophe Bigot said in Tel Aviv at an event organized by The Israel Project. Although anti-Semitism in France is down slightly, there were 57 violent incidents reported last year and Bigot noted “the tragic event of today shows that it’s an everlasting fight.”
The French Jewish community is still haunted by the brutal 2006 murder of Jewish man that Sarkozy deplored as an anti-Semitic crime.
Religious leaders in France denounced the attack. “Killing children is probably the ultimate act of barbarism,” Pastor Claude Baty, president of the Protestant Federation of France said. “When in addition, as seems likely, a selection (by the gunman is) linked to religion, our horror increases.”
After the shooting, the French Interior Ministry ordered security to be increased around all Jewish schools in the country. Police are investigating to see if there is a connection between the shooting at the Jewish school and two other shootings in the past week that killed three French soldiers from visible minorities.