Students comfort one another at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school where a gunman… (Remy de la Mauvinere, Associated…)
PARIS — A teacher and three youngsters at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, were gunned down Monday by a motorbiking assassin said to be armed with the same .45-caliber weapon used to kill three French soldiers of North African origin in similar attacks in southwestern France last week.
The gunman, wearing a black motorcycle helmet and visor, opened fire as parents were dropping off their children at the Ozar Hatorah private school in a residential area of the city. The killer, armed with two guns, picked off his victims one by one, aiming at their heads, witnesses said, leaving what one parent described as a "vision of horror," before he escaped on his scooter.
Those killed included a 30-year-old religious education teacher and his two sons, ages 3 and 6. A 10-year-old girl, reported to be the daughter of the school head, was also killed and a 17-year-old boy was seriously wounded.
Police sources told French journalists that they believe a weapon fired in the attack was also used to kill an off-duty paratrooper in Toulouse on March 11, and two uniformed paratroopers who were withdrawing money from an ATM in the town of Montauban, 28 miles north of Toulouse, on Thursday.
The slain soldiers, all believed to be Muslims, were of North African origin, and authorities think the assassin's vehicle, identified through video surveillance cameras at the school as a high-powered Yamaha TMAX, was also used in the previous shootings.
On Monday night, the respected newsmagazine Le Point said police were seeking three ex-paratroopers, from the same regiment as the Montauban victims, accused of having links to a neo-Nazi network.
The school massacre sparked widespread cries of sorrow and calls for action in France and beyond.
The Interior Ministry ordered police headquarters across the country to step up security around Jewish schools and colleges, and President Nicolas Sarkozy said all French schools would observe a one-minute silence Tuesday morning.
Sarkozy and his election rival, Francois Hollande, traveled immediately to the school to decry the attack.
"The whole French republic is touched by this abominable drama," Sarkozy said. "We must not give in to terror, to barbarism, to savagery; cruelty and hatred must not be allowed to win; the republic is much stronger than that."
Hollande said his visit was meant to demonstrate "solidarity with the families and the Jewish community in France."
The European Commission described the attack as an "odious crime," and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he was "profoundly shocked by the murderous attack."
Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the French Muslim Council, said he was "horrified by this indescribable criminal act."
It was the worst violence against members of France's Jewish community since six people were shot to death and 22 injured in a grenade and gun attack on the Goldenberg restaurant, on the Rue des Rosiers, in Paris in 1982.
The gunman at the school struck shortly after 8 a.m., killing Franco-Israeli rabbi Jonathan Sandler, who taught there, as well as his two young children and the girl.
Sandler arrived in Toulouse in September for a two-year post at the 200-pupil school. Israeli radio reported that his body and those of his sons will be flown back to Israel for burial.
Speaking after Monday's shooting, local prosecutor Michel Valet said the gunman first used a 9-millimeter weapon, "firing at everything in front on him." When that gun jammed, he switched to the heavier weapon, shooting inside the school before fleeing on his motorbike.
"He shot at everything he could see, children and adults. Some children were chased into the school," Valet said.
Patrick Rouimi, father of a child at the school, told Agence France-Presse: "I saw two people dead in front of the school, an adult and a child. Inside, it was a vision of horror."
A witness, identified only as Alain, told French TV: "I saw at once a man in a helmet, not a military helmet, a motorcycle helmet, who had come into the playground of the school a few feet from the entrance. He was shooting not haphazardly but directly as close as possible to the head of those, adults and pupils, around the entrance of the school."
Nicole Yardeni, president of the local Council Representing Jewish Institutions in France, viewed a security video of the massacre.
"I don't believe the man was crazy. He seemed very determined, very calm. It wasn't the madness you imagine, it was evil," she said.
Willsher is a special correspondent.