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France Investigates Possible Links in Deadly Shootings

  • Lisa Bryant

Adults comfort a boy as they walk away from the "Ozar Hatorah" Jewish school in Toulouse, southwestern France, March 19, 2012

Adults comfort a boy as they walk away from the "Ozar Hatorah" Jewish school in Toulouse, southwestern France, March 19, 2012

French prosecutors are opening an anti-terrorism investigation into a string of shootings in southern France that killed several Jewish school children and French Muslim soldiers, among others.

France will hold a minute of silence on Tuesday to mark the latest victims in a series of deadly shootings in southern France. Three children and a teacher were shot dead early Monday, after a motorcycle gunman opened fire in front of a Jewish school in the southwestern city of Toulouse.

Toulouse Prosecutor Michel Valet told reporters that a man on a scooter or motorbike began shooting at everyone in front of him. He chased children inside the school. Besides the four people killed, the man also severely wounded a 17-year-old boy, who is in the hospital.

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The killings have left France in shock. Coming just days after two similar shootings of French soldiers in the same region, the attacks raise questions about possible religious or ethnic motives - and feed into ongoing concerns about anti-Semitism in France.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who rushed to Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse, said it is still unclear whether the school and the troop shootings are linked.

But Sarkozy said officials were struck by the similarity of the incidents. Last week's shootings, also in Toulouse and the nearby town of Montauban, killed a black soldier and two Muslims. In all three cases, the killer was reportedly on a motorbike.

Investigators also say the same weapon was used in the soldier attacks. They are checking whether that weapon was used in Monday's shootings as well.

The government is now beefing up security at all schools and religious buildings in France. For the estimated 700,000 French Jews, this is nothing new. Security was reinforced a decade ago, following a string of anti-Semitic attacks.

In a radio interview, Marc Pullman, regional secretary-general for the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, or CRIF, said that when anti-Semitism is trivialized, people should not be surprised when such attacks happen.

Coming just a month before presidential elections in France, the shootings have fed into the campaign, prompting calls for tougher security. Socialist Party frontrunner Francois Hollande also rushed to Toulouse, saying he wanted to be "in solidarity" with the victims' families. Other candidates, including far-right politician Marine Le Pen, condemned the attack - as did Israeli and European diplomats.

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