Ozer Hatorah school in Toulouse, France 370.
(photo credit: Courtesy Ozer Hatorah website)
A gunman opened fire at a crowd of parents and children outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, France on Monday morning, killing four people.
Eyewitnesses said the unknown assailant drove up to the Ozar Hatorah school's entrance on a black scooter around 8:00 a.m. and fired at the gatherers with a heavy-calibre firearm and a pistol.
Yonathan Sandler, a 30-year-old teacher from Jerusalem; his two children Aryeh, 6, and Gavriel, 3; and 8-year-old Miriam Monstango, the daughter of the school's principle, died in the attack and several others were wounded.
"I saw two people dead in front of the school, an adult and a child... Inside, it was a vision of horror, the bodies of two small children," a distraught father whose child attends the school told RTL radio.
"I did not find my son, apparently he fled when he saw what happened. How can they attack something as sacred as a school, attack children only sixty centimeters tall?"
Police shut the city down looking for the gunman who fled the scene of the crime.
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant ordered increased security at Jewish schools throughout the country and President Nicolas Sarkozy was en route to the southern French city to oversee the police investigation.
Gil Taieb, a vice president of the CRIF, France's Jewish umbrella group, told The Jerusalem Post
he had no doubt the attack was a hate crime.
"For someone to locate this school in a place like Toulouse means he knew what he was doing," Taieb said. "He went there to kill Jews."
Taieb said the community was in a state of shock.
"There are occasional anti-Semitic attacks but they are small, nothing like this," he said. "We haven't had something like this in at least ten years."
The attack on the Jewish school may be linked to two other mysterious shootings that have taken place in southern France over the past week .
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said there were striking similarities between the shooting at the Jewish school Monday and the killing of three soldiers earlier this month in two separate incidents.
"We are struck by the similarities between the modus operandi of today's drama and those last week even if we have to wait to have more elements from the police to confirm this hypothesis," Sarkozy said.
Speaking from Toulouse, he said that one of the soldiers killed in the earlier incidents had been of Caribbean origin and the other two Muslims.
Last week an off duty French soldier was shot dead by a motorcyclist in Toulouse.
On Thursday three French soldiers in uniform were shot by an unknown man at a shopping mall in Montauban, 50 kilometers north of Toulouse. Two of them later died of their wounds.
French police said similar ammunition was used in both shootings.
Some 500,000 Jews live in France, which has the world's third largest Jewish community.
Rabbi Avraham Weill, the chief rabbi of Toulouse, said there was no warning
that the community, which numbers about 20,000, might be targeted.
"There was nothing, no phone call, no warning, " he said over the phone from France.
Weill said his top priority was to comfort the families of the victims and prepare the bodies for burial.
The shooting was the single worst act of violence against Jews in France since 1982, when six people were killed and 22 wounded in a grenade attack carried out by Palestinians on a Jewish restaurant in Paris.
The most recent anti-Semitic murder occurred in 2006 when Ilan Halimi was kidnapped and killed by a gang in Paris in a crime that had racist overtones.Reuters contributed to this report.