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France school killer may have filmed attack

Nicolas Sarkozy, the president, declares a "scarlet" state of security alert in the region of Midi-Pyrénées, France's highest level, with concerns that gunman could strike again.

Family and friends mourn the four victims of a shooting spree at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. The bodies of the three children and one adult were to be flown to Israel last night.
Family and friends mourn the four victims of a shooting spree at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. The bodies of the three children and one adult were to be flown to Israel last night.

MARSEILLE, FRANCE // A gunman who killed three children and a teacher in a school shooting in southern France may have filmed the slaughter, a government minister said yesterday.

Claude Guéant, France's interior minister, said the killer - also believed responsible for shooting dead three soldiers last week - was wearing a type of video camera when he attacked children as they were dropped off by parents at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse on Monday morning.

Mr Guéant echoed the fear, widespread in France and especially the area around Toulouse, that the killer would strike again.

Suspicions the shootings have been the work of one man, with or without accomplices, were confirmed as the official line of inquiry in a television address broadcast nationwide by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr Sarkozy declared a "scarlet" state of security alert in the region of Midi-Pyrénées. It is France's highest level, short of a formal state of emergency, and gives the authorities wide powers to close airports and railway stations, interfere with public services and send soldiers on patrol with police officers.

The four victims of the school shooting have been identified by Israeli authorities as holding joint Franco-Israeli citizenship: 30-year-old Jonathan - also known as Yonatan - Sandler, a rabbi and teacher of religious studies at the school, his sons Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 4, and Miriam, the seven-year-old daughter of the headmaster, Yaacov Monsonego.

The children's ages have varied in reports.

The bodies of all four were to be flown to Israel last night for burial today.

In one of the biggest manhunts in recent French history, poignant detail and images emerged. Witnesses said Mr Sandler died trying to protect his sons. Miriam tried to escape but was shot after the gunman chased her into the school. A photograph of the girl's smiling face appeared in news reports yesterday.

"In attacking children and a Jewish teacher, the anti-semitic motive of the attack appears obvious," Mr Sarkozy said in his address, after returning to Paris from Toulouse.

But the killer's targets clearly extend to members of other communities, if it is the same killer.

The three soldiers shot dead in Toulouse and nearby Montauban were of north African Maghrebin origin. A fourth soldier, still critically ill with spinal injuries after surviving one of the attacks, is black.

The choice of Jewish, Muslim and Afro-Caribbean victims has led to speculation the killer has a psychopathic grudge against ethnic minorities.

Many in France wondered if the killings were carried out by a right-wing fanatic inspired by Anders Behring Breivik, detained for the Norwegian mass murders last July.

Breivik's lawyer has said his client claimed links with an organisation with "cells all over Europe".

The conclusion of French investigators that one gunman opened fire in all three attacks was reached after analysis of CCTV film, comparison of witness statements and study of the weapons, ammunition and methods used.

The same high-calibre automatic pistol was common to all the killings and the man rode a powerful Yamaha motorcycle - apparently repainted white before the school shooting - believed to have been stolen in Toulouse earlier this month.

The possibility that the killer filmed his own crimes added a disturbing new aspect to a crime that has left France in shock.

When asked on French radio yesterday whether the gunman recorded the attack, Mr Guéant said: "We can imagine that."

According to a witness, the killer had a GoPro, described by its makers as "the world's most versatile camera", strapped to his chest.

Mr Guéant described it as a device "to record in wide-angle images and then view them on a computer" and said the authorities were scouring the internet in case such a film appeared online.

He echoed concerns about the killer's intentions, saying: "We're worried about the eventuality that he wants to carry out another attack." And he confirmed reports that police were checking former soldiers who may have a "spirit of revenge" after being expelled from the French army for showing neo-Nazi sympathies. Three such cases have so far been investigated but the individuals concerned were eliminated from the murder inquiry

Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, called for this Friday's worship to include a common prayer for all the victims "without distinction".

And Muslim community leaders will join Jewish counterparts to stage a silent march in Paris on Sunday in memory of those who have been killed.

A minute's silence was observed in schools throughout France yesterday as politicians continued to avoid campaigning in the presidential election contest.

The home page of Mr Sarkozy's campaign website carried only the short message: "In the light of this national tragedy, I suspend my participation in the presidential campaign at least until Wednesday."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae