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March 19, 2012

France Raises Terror Alert as Police Hunt For Motorcycle Killer

by Lisa Bryant

Officials raised the terror alert for a wide area of southern France and presidential contenders suspended their campaigns Tuesday, a day after a motorcycle gunman shot dead four people in front of a Jewish school in Toulouse. Authorities have linked their deaths with French paratrooper killings last week.

French schools and the government marked a moment of silence on Tuesday for the four victims of the Toulouse shootings.  Three children and the rabbi father of two of them were killed by a motorcycle gunman, who opened fire at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in the southern French city.

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President Nicolas Sarkozy and his rival, Francois Hollande, suspended their presidential campaigns until at least Wednesday. Both candidates attended ceremonies at a Jewish synagogue in Paris Monday night to mourn the victims. Thousands of people also staged a silent memorial march in the French capital.

In a televised address, Sarkozy said the government is raising its terror alert to its highest level, around the Midi-Pyrenees region where Toulouse is located.  He says every measure is being taken to increase security around Jewish and Muslim institutions and religious schools - and to find the killer.

The deaths come days after a motorcycle gunman fatally shot three French soldiers in the same region. Police say the same weapon was used in all of the shootings.

Sarkozy says that, although the gunman's motivation is unknown, the fact he has killed four Jews suggests anti-Semitism is a factor.  He noted that two of the French soldiers killed last week were Muslim and the third from the French Antilles - so racism might be a factor there.

The French president is meeting with leaders of the Muslim and Jewish communities on Tuesday. Three of the school victims are of joint French and Israeli nationality. They are being flown to Israel on Tuesday for burial.