Monday, March 19, 2012

Gunman Kills 4 at Jewish School in France 

A gunman opened fire on a Jewish school in the southern French city of Toulouse on Monday just minutes before classes were due to start, leaving four people dead and others wounded, before fleeing on a motorbike, police said. The shooting came days after three soldiers were shot by a man on a scooter in the same part of the country, though officials cautioned it was too soon to establish whether the incidents were connected.

Police officers and firefighters gathered at the site of a shooting in Toulouse, southwestern France, on Monday. The unidentified gunman opened fire on a group of children and their parents outside the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, leaving one adult and three children dead and several severely wounded, said police officer Luc Escoda on French television. The dead are a 30-year old religious-education teacher, his two children, aged six and three, and another 10-year old child, said Toulouse prosecutor Michel Valet, according to French newspaper Le Monde.

French media reports said the shooter was armed with two guns, one of which he used outside the school and the other inside the building as he pursued students. The interior ministry ordered security around Jewish schools and synagogues in France to be tightened. The shooting, which comes as French presidential candidates gear up for the final rush of campaigning for elections in just over a month's time, may become an electoral issue in a country that boasts the largest Jewish community in Europe, and where about 5% of the population is Muslim. President Nicolas Sarkozy travelled to the school Monday morning, while Socialist Challenger François Hollande is also on his way to the school.

While the Jewish electorate was markedly left-leaning in the 1970s and supported Socialist François Mitterrand in his election in 1981, it seems to have moved towards the right since, according to a survey by polling company Ifop. The Jewish community, which represents less than 1% of the French population, voted en masse for Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, notably because of his pro-Israel positions, Ifop said. According to the poll, Mr. Sarkozy's popularity with practising Catholics and Jews is significantly higher than the national average.

Last week, a gunman shot three soldiers in front of a cash distributor close to their barracks, leaving two dead before leaving on a motorbike in Montauban, a neighboring city. Another soldier was killed by a gunman on a motorbike in Toulouse a few days earlier. "There are some similarities, but it is much too early to say whether there is a link," Mr. Sarkozy said on French radio. The antiterrorist division of the Paris prosecutor's office said it was looking into the three cases.


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