Toulouse is in “lockdown” after a father, his two sons, and a third pupil were shot dead outside a Jewish school. It is the third drive-by shooting in the region in recent days.
The 30-year-old man, who was a Hebrew teacher at the school, his two sons, aged three and six, and another 10-year-old child were killed after a man on a scooter opened fire outside the Ozar Hatorah school. He then fled on his scooter.
Another 17-year-old was seriously injured and is being being operated on in hospital following the attack, which took place at 7.50am local time as pupils were starting classes.
French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has described the incident as a “national disaster”. “In cold blood, children have been assassinated,” he said, urging Jewish and Muslim schools to be on red alert.
He also questioned whether the attack could be linked to other “drive-by” shootings in recent days. In a similar incident a gunman on a scooter shot dead three French soldiers, most of whom were said to be from ethnic minorities.
Mr Sarkozy said: “We are struck by the similarities in the modus operandi [of the killings] and the links between what happened last week and what happened today even if we have to wait to have more elements from the scientific [forensic] police to confirm this assumption”.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “”I am horrified by the attack this morning on the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse.
“The British government expresses its deep and sincere sympathy for the families and friends of the victims and for the entire Jewish community in France. This act of calculated cruelty will unite all decent people in revulsion and condemnation.
“There is no excuse for such acts of appalling violence.”
The Paris anti-terrorist branch has now taken control of the three investigations, indicating that officials believe they are linked. Toulouse is also in lockdown as officials attempt to hunt the killer.
City prosecutor Michel Valet said: “The attacker was shooting people outside the school, then pursued children into the school, before fleeing on a heavy motorbike.”
One distraught father described how he was unable to find his son in the chaos which ensued after the attack. “I saw two people dead in front of the school, an adult and a child… Inside it was a vision of horror, the bodies of two small children,” he told RTL radio. “I did not find my son; apparently he fled when he saw what happened. How can they attack something as sacred as a school, attack children only [two feet] tall?”
Others described how the family of one of the victims killed, a little girl, had been active among members of the Jewish community.
Toulouse has already been on a state of high alert since the soldiers’ killings last week, with France banning soldiers in the south west of the country from wearing uniform outside their barracks.
Scooter shootings: Timeline
Sunday 11 March
Imad Ibn-Ziaten, 30, a staff sergeant, goes to meet a prospective buyer for his motorcycle in Toulouse. Found dead next to the vehicle.
Thursday 15 March
Corporal Abel Chennouf, 24, Private Mohamed Legouad, 26, and Corporal Loic Liber, 28, are shot by a gunman on his scooter at around 2pm in Montauban, while waiting at a cash machine. Cpl Chennouf and Pte Legouad are killed on the spot; Cpl Liber is left in a coma.
Monday 19 March
Four people, including a 30-year-old Rabbi and his three and six-year-old sons, are killed outside the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse. A 10-year-old child also died, and a 17-year-old was seriously injured in the attack.
Aside from the obvious similarity of the method of the killings - a lone gunman aboard a scooter - investigators believe the same artillery has been used in each attack. In the latest killing spree, the gunman is believed to have started with a 9mm weapon but switched to 11.43 calibre cartridges - the same as those in the Montauban shootings last week, according to Le Figaro. If caught, they will want to know why he chose his targets - all of whom appear to be ethnic minorities.
Around 50 investigators are looking into the second incident, in which Corporal Abel Chennouf, 24, Private Mohamed Legouad, 26, and Corporal Loic Liber, 28, were shot by a gunman on his scooter at around 2pm in Montauban, 23 miles north of Toulouse, as they waited at a cash machine. He dismounted from a powerful scooter and opened fire on the soldiers as they queued at a cash machine.
Witnesses described how the killer allegedly dismounted the moped and pushed an elderly person waiting behind the soldiers aside to shoot at them. Others said that he had time to turn over one of the wounded men who was trying to crawl away, and fired three more shots into him before getting on his scooter and fleeing.
The man was described as being a small man who acted calmly, stopping to change the magazine of his pistol. He was described as being of average height, and portly in build. One witness also told French broadcaster RTL his helmet visor had been raised, so she was able to see his eyes and a tattoo on his face.
That incident followed a similar shooting days before, during which a gunman aboard a scooter shot dead a 30-year-old off duty serviceman from the 1st Parachute Logistics Regiment in Toulouse in a car park, 20km from his base.
Imad Ibn-Ziaten, a staff sergeant, went to meet a prospective buyer after receiving a response for an advert to sell his Suzuki Bandit motorcycle. He arranged a meeting for 4pm and waited behind a school in Toulouse. Moments later, Sgt Ibn-Ziaten, who was not uniformed, was found shot in the head with his motorcycle behind him. French daily, Le Figaro, reported that police are attempting to establish further details from the two men’s internet exchanges.
Of the soldiers killed, all were described as being of north African origin, while another who was injured was said to be of Caribbean origin. At least two are known to be Muslim.
After the Montauban shooting in which two soldiers were killed, 17 large calibre shell casings and a spent ammunition cartridge were found at the scene. Such ammunition is commonly found among organised crime elements, and suggest that the killer may have received a degree of training.
However officials have said they are not yet able to say if the weapons used in the three shootings were the same.