Police fear school killer could strike again

French police stepped up the search for a gunman who filmed his carnage as he shot dead three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school, fearing the killer could strike again.

Officials say the scooter-riding gunman is a trained marksman with “extremist” views who may also be responsible for last week’s shootings of three soldiers of North African origin.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has said racism appeared to be the motivation for Monday’s school attack, which came just five weeks before the first round of the presidential election.

“When you grab a little girl to put a bullet in her head, without leaving her any chance, you’re a monster. An anti-Semitic monster, but first of all a monster,” Sarkozy said.

Racist and anti-Semitic attacks are not uncommon in France.

Immigrants and Islam have been major themes of the campaign as Sarkozy tries to win over the voters of far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Analysts say the shootings could transform the election debate and possibly tone down populist rhetoric.

“We will track down this monster,” foreign minister Alain Juppe said. “We will find him, bring him to justice and punish him.”

France is home to the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe and has a history of attacks on both groups, but Monday’s shooting was the most deadly anti-Semitic attack on French soil in nearly 30 years.

The police tightened security at religious sites, raised the terror alert in the southern town to the highest possible level and talked to gun clubs in an effort to track down the killer.

“It would be surprising if he stops now,” one police officer said.

Surveillance tapes at the school showed the gunman recorded his shooting spree with a small video camera around his neck.

French police have been scouring the internet for possible images from the killer, but no trace had been found by last night.

He is also the prime suspect in the killing of three paratroopers in two separate shootings last week in Toulouse and the nearby town of Montauban.

“This shows a profile of the murderer as someone who is very cold, very determined, with precise gestures, and therefore very cruel,” Claude Gueant, the interior minister, said.

In each attack, the gunman arrived on a stolen Yamaha scooter and used a Colt 45 handgun. His face was hidden by a motorcycle helmet during the attacks.

The three dead soldiers included two members of the 17th parachute regiment. Police have interviewed three former soldiers expelled from the regiment for neo-Nazi activity in 2008, but a police source said they had been ruled out of the investigation.

At the entrance of the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse, a five-floor brick building in a leafy residential neighbourhood, residents and parents left floral tributes and candles in memory of the victims.

A child who survived the attack spoke of his sheer terror as the shots rang out through the school.

“I thought he was going to come in any minute and finish us all. Then I waited and waited and then my daddy came to get me.”

Schools all over France observed a minute of silence.

The bodies of the four victims, who hold dual French-Israeli nationality, were being repatriated to Israel last night, Joel Mergui, the head of a Jewish religious organisation, said.

The Israeli embassy identified the victims as Jonathan Sandler, 30, his children Gabriel and Arieh, aged four and five, and Myriam Monsonego, aged seven.


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