The serial killer at the centre of France’s biggest manhunt may have been filming the deaths of his victims as he carried out the killings, the French interior minister has said.
Claude Gueant said: “A witness [reported] that something to take photos was attached to his chest, that he could connect to the internet to make them avaialble for broadcast or which could be viewed.
“This element reinforces that psychological profile of the murderer that was established. All the witnesses have noted that he is someone very cold, determined, who has shown huge cruelty.
“The fact that he films his act to see them again or to broadcast them confirms this sentiment that this is someone particularly insensitive and determined.”
For the first time, France has been placed on a state of scarlet alert after the killings, which have spread nationwide panic and revulsion. The level is the highest in a four-tiered system which indicates that a threat is ongoing and is one step below a state of emergency.
“The plan concerns all the ministries,” a London-based French official told Channel 4 News. “The police are reinforced with army personnel when doing their patrols. All resources are poured onto the ground. There are also some measures which are confidential.”
Around 250 investigators are pursuing numerous lines of inquiry. French police have not yet given any indications that the net is closing in on the killer, although they are combing through details of disgruntled former soldiers who had been dismissed from the army for expressing neo-Nazi sentiments.
However Mr Gueant said that this line of enquiry was not specifically placed above others. “We don’t know who he is. We are not really very far foward,” he told Europe 1 radio in remarks which may be interpreted as an attempt to catch the killer off guard.
Meanwhile, President Sarkozy called leaders of France’s Jewish and Muslim communities for a meeting after a minute’s silence was held at schools across France – a gesture which was replicated in French schools in London on Monday afternoon – hours after the killer struck in Toulouse.
Places of worship have also been placed under surveillance, amid fears that the killer could strike again.
Yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron also expressed his condolences, writing to President Sarkozy saying that “People across Britain share the shock and grief that is being felt in France, and my thoughts are with the victims, their friends and their families”.
Profile of a killer
Psychologists who specialise in criminology say the killer may attempt to strike again on Friday, as so far, he has struck every four days. "Since there has been a lot of coverage, he may be disrupted," Sandrine Wattecamps, a psychocriminologist with French firm, JF Abgall, said. "But he may try and keep up with this ritual, and will choose his targets because of what they symbolise."
She said the killer, who is probably driven by megalomania and a kind of saviour complex, may have been filming his latest attack either because he wants to keep a visual record which he can use to improve his technique, or because he wants to "spread his message [of racism] more widely on the internet".
The killer, she added, is likely to be someone with a degree of training, but is not up to the standards of a professional marksman. It is likely his confidence has grown since the first attack, and that he thrives on the media attention. But as he grows more confident, he is likely to make more mistakes and therefore increase his chances of being caught, she said.
Inevitable comparisons are also being drawn with Norwegian gunman, Anders Behring Breivik, a far-right extremist who shot 69 people at a Labour camp on the island of Utoya after killing eight in a bomb attack in Oslo last August. While some theories have suggested the French killer may be led by a terrorist gang, the bulk of investigators’ enquiries are said to be operating on the basis that he is also a lone wolf.
Further evidence has emerged that the killer is the same person behind the shooting of three soldiers in Montauban last week, in which Corporal Abel Chennouf, 24, and Private Mohamed Legouad, 26, both of whom were of north African origin, were killed on the spot while waiting at a cash machine. Corporal Loic Liber, 28, of Caribbean origin, who was with them, was left in a coma.
Police said the weapon used for that killing – a .45 calibre weapon – was the same in all three incidents. The killer first struck on 11 March, when staff sergeant Imad Ibn-Ziaten, 30, was found shot dead in Toulouse near his barracks after going to meet a prospective buyer who had responded to his online advert to sell his Suzuki motorbike.
Monday’s killing spree in Toulouse claimed the lives of 30-year-old Rabbi, Jonathan Sandler, an Israeli-French dual citizen originally from Jerusalem who moved to France last September, and his two sons, Gabriel, three, and Arieh, six. Miriam Monsonego, believed to be eight and the daughter of the school’s head teacher, was also killed. A 17-year-old boy was seriously injured by the gunman, who was dressed in black leather and wearing a helmet.
Prosecutors have also confirmed that the vehicle used – a black stolen Yamaha scooter – was the same in all three incidents.
International ports, transport hubs, trains and pavements are all under police guard amid fears that the killer could attempt to escape the country, with officials reserving the power to temporarily suspend public transport networks or schools.
Pedestrians entering shops in Toulouse have also had their bags checked by security officials.