Is lone-wolf extremist responsible for Toulouse school shooting?

Mar 19, 2012

Gun used in killing of three children and one adult at French school is same as one used to murder North African soldiers last week

ONE OF the guns used in this morning's shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse in which three children and an adult were killed was also used in two other fatal shootings in the region last week, it has emerged. An expert has said a "lone-wolf" extremist is most likely responsible for the attacks, which were all on members of ethnic minorities.

This morning's attack, by a man on a scooter wielding two guns, happened in front of Ozar Hatorah school in the Joliment district of Toulouse at around 8am.

French and Israeli media named the dead adult as Jonathan Sandler, a 30-year-old visiting teacher from Jerusalem. His two children, aged three and six, were also killed. The other victim was a 10-year-old girl, said to be the principal's daughter. A 17-year-old was seriously injured.

A colleague of Sandler's told Haaretz that he had greeted the Israeli moments before the shooting. "Seconds later, I hear shots. I didn't turn around and started running toward the synagogue that is about 10-15 metres from the entrance gate," he said.

"Everyone started shouting 'shooting, shooting!' and fled. At some point, the shooter entered the school and began firing inside. We hid under the synagogue in a shed, until the police came and escorted us out."

Local prosecutor Michel Valet told the BBC: "This man alighted from his moped and, as he was outside the school, he shot at everybody who was near him, children or adults. Children were chased right into the school."

Police say today’s attack is similar to two others in which French soldiers of North African and Caribbean origin were gunned down, in both cases by a man on a scooter.

A paratrooper in civilian clothes was shot dead in a residential area of Toulouse just over a week ago, while two soldiers were killed and a third wounded as they used a cashpoint in the town of Montauban, 30 miles north of Toulouse, on Thursday.

A source close to the police investigation told Le Figaro this afternoon that the gun used in last week's shootings was the same kind as one of those used at the Jewish school, this morning.

Jean-Yves Camus, a research associate with the Institute of International and Strategic Relations in France, told Haaretz: "The lone-wolf scenario seems the more likely, both in the case of the Toulouse shooting-spree and in the cold-blooded murder of French servicemen who belonged to an elite unit having fought in Afghanistan.

"One interesting point in those murders is that all soldiers belonged to an ethnic minority, three were from north Africa and one was from the West Indies. Until now, experts have agreed that the French neo-Nazi scene, while it is much appreciative of Breivik's killing in Norway and often refers to the 'lone-wolf' or leaderless resistance modes of action, do not have the capability of committing such actions."

President Nicolas Sarkozy, currently campaigning for re-election, said: "Whatever happens, faced with this kind of toll, we can say that the French Republic as a whole has been hit by this appalling tragedy." He has since visited the scene of this morning's shooting.

Meanwhile, the leader of the far-right National Front, Marine Le Pen, has condemned the murders, saying in a statement: "We present our sincere condolences to the families and we ask the public powers to do their very best to avoid a new tragedy."

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