, TOULOUSE, Mar 19 – A gunman burst into a Jewish school in France on Monday, shooting dead a teacher, his two sons and another child in the third such deadly attack in a week by a man on a motorbike.
The children, aged three, six and 10, and the 30-year-old religious education teacher were mowed down as they arrived for class at the Ozar Hatorah school in the southwestern city of Toulouse, officials said.
President Nicolas Sarkozy said the attack was a “national tragedy” while Israel said it was “horrified” and urged France to quickly bring the perpetrator to justice.
The gunman shot the teacher outside the school in a quiet residential area of the city before one of his weapons jammed and he then entered the school grounds where he sprayed the area with bullets, a local prosecutor said.
“Shortly before eight o’clock (0700 GMT) a man on a powerful scooter or a motorbike dismounted and shot at everything he could see. At children as well as adults,” prosecutor Michel Valet said.
“This individual also chased some children into the school,” Valet said, adding that the school had around 200 pupils.
“I came to the school this morning for prayers,” said six-year-old Alexia. “Five minutes later we heard shots, and we were very afraid. We were gathered in a room and prayed together while we waited for our parents.”
Tearful parents gathered near the school after the shooting, discussing the possible links between the attack and last week’s shooting of three French soldiers.
The 10-year-old who died was the daughter of the school’s director, officials said.
A fifth pupil, a 17-year-old boy, was in critical condition and was being treated in hospital. A nearby Jewish primary school was evacuated after the attack, officials said.
The shooting came just days after two previous attacks in the region by a man on a motorbike who killed three soldiers.
There was no hard evidence of a link between the shootings, but Interior Minister Claude Gueant told AFP that there were “similarities” and police said the same calibre weapon was used in all three attacks.
The gunman initially used a 9-mm weapon but it jammed, so he switched to a .45-calibre gun as he went into the school, police said. A .45-calibre weapon was used in last week’s deadly shootings.
Paris anti-terrorist prosecutors said they have opened up three investigations into Monday’s attack.
Gueant ordered security to be tightened around all religious buildings in France, which has Europe’s largest Jewish community estimated at up to 700,000 people.
Sarkozy arrived in Toulouse late morning and said he wanted all schools in France to observe a minute’s silence on Tuesday to honour the victims.
Police in southwestern France launched a major manhunt last week after the killing of three paratroopers and the wounding of another in two separate, but connected incidents.
The perpetrator of both attacks fled on a motorbike.
A source close to the investigation into those attacks noted that those killed were of Arab or Caribbean origin.
The head of anti-racism organisation SOS Racisme, Dominique Sopo, said he was “horrified” by Monday’s school attack and noted the fact that all three shootings in the last week had targeted minorities.
“How not to think of the similarities between this killing and the murders of several soldiers last week in the southwest?” he said in a statement.
Between 50 and 60 police officers, including anti-terrorist specialists, were last week drafted in to the investigation of the soldiers’ deaths.
Senior military officials have ordered troops based in the region not to wear their uniforms outside barracks.
The first victim, a 30-year-old non-commissioned officer, was dressed in civilian clothes when he was shot dead in the street in Toulouse at point blank range on March 11.
The gunman escaped on a powerful motorbike or scooter.
On Thursday three more paratroopers, based this time in nearby Montauban, were shot while standing at a cash machine outside their barracks.
Two of Thursday’s victims – sappers from 17th Parachute Engineering Regiment (RGP) aged 26 and 24 – died on the spot. The third man, a 28-year-old from the same regiment was left in a critical condition with spinal injuries.
Witnesses saw a black-clad motorcyclist walk up to the men, who were in uniform but unarmed, and open fire at point blank range.
Witnesses described how the killer had time to turn over one of the wounded men who was trying to crawl away and fire three more shots into him before getting back on his scooter and making his escape.