A major manhunt was underway across France today for a suspected racist serial killer.
It follows three separate shootings in and around Toulouse, including the killing of three children and a rabbi outside a Jewish school in the area yesterday.
Yesterday's shootings were carried out with the same heavy calibre .45 automatic pistol that was used in two attacks that murdered three soldiers of North African and Caribbean origin in the region last week.
In all three incidents the lone gunman arrived and escaped on a dark-coloured high-powered scooter.
Rabbi Johnathan Sandler, 30, who had been teaching Yiddish at the Jewish school for seven months, his six and three-year-old sons and another child aged around nine were gunned down at around 8am just before lessons were due to start at Ozar Hatorah school.
The gunman pumped 15 rounds at his helpless targets.
A minute's silence will be held in all French schools today in memory of the victims.
The country has raised its terror alert to 'red', the highest before a full state of emergency is declared.
Meanwhile it has been claimed that France is awash with illegal firearms transported into the country across porous European borders.
While gun laws are strict, it is not difficult for unauthorised members of the public to get their hands on weapons, according to the president of the Union Francaise des Amateurs d’Armes, a French gun society.
Jean-Jacques Buigne suggested the killer responsible for the attacks outside a school in Toulouse most likely did not have a licence for the heavy calibre .45 automatic pistol he was carrying.
“It’s impossible to obtain authorisation for an arm like that if you’re not ’clean’, if you have any convictions, if you have any history of psychiatric problems,” he said.
“It’s very complicated to get a weapon like that legitimately. But in France lots of criminals use illegal arms and no law could change that.”
He blamed the problem on the open borders between European countries and claimed many arms were carried into France from eastern Europe in vans.
Others have spoken of the difficulty of counting how many firearms there are in the country, with the number estimated at more than three million in 2008.
Many of these were thought to be used for hunting or other sporting activities and the owners of them would have been required to hold a licence.
But it is thought the number of weapons circulating significantly exceeds what official figures suggest.