'No obvious lead' in hunt for French school shooter
The serial gunman believed to be responsible for the murder of seven people, including three school children in Toulouse on Monday, has become the most wanted man in France, but detectives face a tough task to track him down.
A colossal manhunt was underway Monday to track down a gunman believed to be responsible for a spate of deadly shootings in southwest France.
As France tries to come to terms with the shocking murder of three pupils and a teacher outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, the focus is now shifting towards the challenge police face in tracking down the killer
With the world’s media firmly focused on Toulouse and escalating concerns of further attacks, detectives are under immense pressure to snare the assailant as soon as possible.
Tough task ahead
Interior Minister Claude Gueant also admitted there was “no obvious lead” in the investigation adding the serial shooter’s “sense of impunity was a concern.”
Police confirmed on Monday that the killer’s weapon was the same .45 caliber gun that had been used in two recent deadly shootings, fuelling fears that a serial killer is on the loose in France.
The first murder linked to the killer took place on Sunday March 11 when a soldier from the parachute regiment was gunned down at point blank range in car park in Toulouse.
Just four days later on Thursday, March 15, two soldiers were fatally shot in the nearby town of Montauban as they queued at a cash point. A third soldier was seriously injured and remains in hospital.
Because all the victims were Jewish or soldiers of North African or Caribbean origin, questions are being asked as to whether the killer’s actions could be racially motivated. Toulouse Mayor Pierre Cohen said "Everything leads one to believe that these were racist and anti-semmitic acts."
Terror alert raised
Police have also confirmed that the black-clad killer used the same scooter to flee the scene of the murders on each occasion. Police sources told local media the scooter – a black Yamaha - had been stolen in Toulouse on March 6.
Dozens of anti-terrorist police from all over France have been drafted in to help the investigation and security has been stepped-up at all religious buildings across the country.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy responded on Monday by raising the terror alert to its highest level in the south west of France, and pledged to catch the killer.
A professional shooter
Despite the shootings taking place in broad daylight in front of many witnesses, the shooter made sure his face remained hidden by wearing a crash helmet. However, one witness reportedly told police 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 they are dealing with an experienced and trained gunman.
“This is someone who is used to shooting guns,” a police source working on the case told La Depeche. “At Montauban he reloaded his automatic weapon without showing any sign of panic.”
Before Monday’s attack against schoolchildren, the professional nature of the soldier shootings and the fact servicemen had been targeted left investigators looking towards the ranks of the military for a possible culprit.
On March 17, a soldier from the region, who also rode a scooter, was arrested and questioned under suspicion of carrying out the shootings but was quickly released and ruled out of the investigation.
The police do however have an important lead to follow and their main line of inquiry could concentrate on the internet.
The killer’s first victim Imad Ibn-Ziaten had placed an advert on the resale website Le Bon Coin hoping to sell his Suzuki scooter. The gunman responded to the advert online, arranged a rendez-vous and then murdered the soldier beside his scooter.
Chief Insp Neil Wilson, a senior detective from London’s Metropolitan police told FRANCE 24 that the online advert would be “a hugely important line of investigation.”
“The police in Toulouse will be all over that like a rash,” he said. “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.”
Police will also be meticulously scanning hours of images from CCTV cameras across Toulouse and Montauban.
CCTV images have already allowed police to plot the escape route used by the killer after his second strike in Montauban on March 15. On Monday, French daily Le Figaro published the route which revealed the gunman’s trail was lost on the outskirts of Montauban as he headed in the direction of Corbarieu.
“It is obvious, from the route used by the scooter rider, that the man knew the town well. He took quiet streets where a scooter can easily pass by,” Le Figaro concluded.
Appeal for help
Police will now be hoping the massive media attention will work in their favour and focus the public’s attention on helping them catch the killer before he strikes again.
Chief Insp Wilson believes the killer’s chosen targets of soldiers and the Jewish community may mean he has left clues behind with those close to him that could help in tracking him down.
“Police will be asking people if they know someone who has changed behaviour recently or someone who has been acting in a strange manner.” Chief Insp Wilson said. “Someone might know someone who has expressed a hatred for soldiers or Jewish people.
“They will try to pull on the heart strings of someone who might know the individual. Using media appeals to target friends and family of the killer will be important for the police” Chief Insp Wilson added.
What is abundantly clear is that French police and the authorities will leave no stone unturned in the hunt for France’s most wanted man