France fears gunman ‘may strike again’
Investigators said Tuesday the man who shot dead seven people in the south west "could strike again", sparking fear across the region France. The warning came as police continued the desperate manhunt to find the killer.
France was in a state of shock on Tuesday as fears grew that a gunman suspected of killing seven people including three children will soon strike again.
The lead investigator in the case, Francois Molins, warned that the killer, who remains unidentified and at large, is “likely to act again” but “knows he is being hunted”.
“We are up against an extremely determined individual,” said Molins, chief Paris prosecutor tasked with terrorist investigations.
The suspect is wanted in connection with Monday’s killing of three children and a teacher outside a Jewish high school in Toulouse, as well as the murders of three soldiers.
Shot at point blank range
Molins told a press conference on Tuesday evening that each victim had been shot at point blank range, and went on to vow that everything will be done to catch the killer.
“No leads have been ruled out at this point... None will be neglected or abandoned until the author of these crimes is arrested," he said.
A minutes silence in respect of the victim’s was observed in schools across France earlier on Tuesday, as the country was still coming to terms with the horrifying murders in the south west of France.
The shooting at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse has triggered one of the biggest manhunts in recent French history, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy announcing that the highest terror alert has been imposed across southwestern France.
Monday’s attack was the deadliest to target a Jewish site since the 1982 attack which left six people dead in Paris. It claimed the life of Jonathan Sandler, 30, his two sons Arieh 5, and Gabriel, 4 plus 7-year-old Miriam Monsonego. Their bodies were flown home to Israel on Tuesday evening.
Police linked Monday’s attack to two earlier shootings in the region, which killed three soldiers of North African and Caribbean origins.
During a visit to a primary school Tuesday, French Interior Minister Claude Gueant told reporters that a witness had seen a camera attached to the killer’s neck suggesting he was filming his deadly acts.
"This adds another element to the profile of the killer. It is someone who is cruel enough to record it," said Gueant. However, authorities later said the existence of a camera could not be confirmed with “certainty”.
Speaking to students at a school in Paris Tuesday, President Nicolas Sarkozy said the pupils killed in the attack “are exactly like you”.
He has called the attack a “national tragedy” and vowed to catch the killer. "Barbarity, savagery, cruelty cannot win. Hate cannot win," he said. "We will find him.''
Reporting from Toulouse, FRANCE 24’s Chris Bockman said the city was in “lockdown” as French authorities imposed the unprecedented "scarlet" terror alert across the region.
Same gun, same scooter
Even as the nation tries to come to terms with the horrific attack, the focus has shifted to the challenge police face in tracking down the killer.
According to police sources, the killer’s weapon was the same .45 caliber gun used in the two deadly shootings last week, and that the gunman had been riding the same stolen black Yamaha scooter.
The first murder linked to the killer took place on Sunday, March 11, when a soldier from a parachute regiment was gunned down at point-blank range in a car park in Toulouse.
Just four days later, two soldiers were fatally shot on March 15 in the nearby town of Montauban as they queued at a cash point. A third soldier was seriously injured in the attack and remains in hospital.
Because all of the school victims were Jewish and the soldiers were of North African or Caribbean origin, questions are being raised as to whether the killer’s actions are racially motivated.
“Anti-Semitism is obvious. The Jewish school attack was an anti-Semitic crime,” Sarkozy said on Tuesday.
“But the soldiers? Was it because they were back from Afghanistan? Was it because they were from minorities? We don’t know,” he said. “We must be very cautious until we have arrested someone.”
A cold-blooded, trained gunman
Dozens of anti-terrorist police from across France have been drafted in to help with the investigation and security has been stepped up at all Jewish and Muslim buildings across the country.
Although the shootings took place in broad daylight and in front of many witnesses, the shooter's face remained concealed by a crash helmet. One witness reportedly told police that she saw part of the man’s face, which bore a “tattoo-like” mark.
The cold-blooded method of the killings has given detectives the impression that they are dealing with a trained and experienced gunman.
“This is someone who is used to shooting guns,” a police source working on the case told the leading Toulouse daily, La Depeche. “At Montauban, he reloaded his automatic weapon without showing any sign of panic.”
Before Monday’s attack on the school, the professional nature of the soldier shootings – and the fact that servicemen had been targeted – left investigators looking to the ranks of the military for a possible culprit.
On March 17 a soldier from the region, who also rides a scooter, was arrested and questioned in the shootings but was quickly released and ruled out as a suspect.
A lead on the Internet
The police do, however, have a lead to follow and their line of inquiry could focus on the Internet.
The killer’s first victim, Imad Ibn-Ziaten, had placed an ad on the resale website Le Bon Coin, hoping to sell his Suzuki scooter. The gunman responded to the online ad, arranged a rendezvous and then murdered the soldier beside his scooter.
Chief Inspector Neil Wilson, a senior detective from London’s Metropolitan police, told FRANCE 24 that the online ad would be “a hugely important line of investigation”.
“The police in Toulouse will be all over that like a rash,” said Wilson. “They will be looking at the response, where it was sent from and from what email account, and whether that account has been used in the past.”