‘Monster on the loose’ hunted as France grieves

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Thousands of French police are hunting for the Jewish school killer described by the country’s president as “a monster on the loose” .

It emerged yesterday the gunman may have filmed his actions as he shot dead a teacher, his two young sons and a little girl.

The same killer is also suspected of two recent attacks on French paratroopers of North African and French Caribbean origin that left three dead and one seriously wounded.

The country was left reeling after Monday’s shooting, the bloodiest attack on Jewish targets in decades. Schools across the country held a moment of silence to honour the victims yesterday. The dead were heading to Israel for burial after a heart-wrenching farewell ceremony in Toulouse.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant said one angle in the investigation is that of three paratroopers who were kicked out of a regiment near Toulouse in 2008 for suspected neo-Nazi activity. He insisted, however, it was just one of many motives being investigated and “not favoured any more than the others”.

Mr Gueant said the attacker was “wearing around his neck an apparatus” they believe could be used to film and post video online.

He said that gave investigators new clues to the killer’s “profile,” although he admitted they were not close to making an arrest. Officers are combing the internet to see if the killer posted a video online, but have not yet found any traces.

Mr Gueant described the suspect as “someone very cold, very determined, very much a master of his movements, and by consequence, very cruel”.

In Monday’s shooting, the attacker fired 15 rounds, first gunning down Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, who was the school’s Yiddish teacher, and his two sons, aged three and five, then chasing down the eight-year-old daughter of the school principal, shooting her dead at point-blank range.

Friends and family wept yesterday as a ceremony was held at the Ozar Hatorah Hebrew school to honour the victims.

It followed an overnight vigil. Several young men pressed their heads against the rear window of one of the hearses as it drove away.

The rabbi’s widow covered her face and held her remaining child, a one-year-old daughter, dressed in a bright pink dress.

Her uncle, Marc Alloul, described how the girl woke up in the middle of the night after the killings, calling out, “Papa! Papa!”

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has played up nationalist themes in his bid for a second term in forthcoming elections, sought to stress the overall horror of the crime.

“The children are exactly like you,” he told junior high school students in Paris after joining them for the moment of silence. “That could have happened here.

“There are beings who have no respect for life. When you grab a little girl to put a bullet in her head, without leaving her any chance, you are a monster. An anti-Semitic monster, but first of all a monster.”

He was speaking at a public school across the street from a memorial to the French people who helped Jews during the Holocaust, when most of France was occupied by the Nazis.

Mr Sarkozy also spoke of the paratroopers killed in two attacks in Toulouse and nearby Montauban. The killer in those attacks also came and went on a scooter and shot from the same weapon as one used in Monday’s school killing.

“Is it because they had come back from Afghanistan? Is it because they came from visible minorities? We don’t know,” Mr Sarkozy said.

Mr Sarkozy also met members of France’s Jewish and Muslim community. France has western Europe’s largest population of both Jews – about half a million – and Muslims – about 5 million.

The terror threat level has been raised to scarlet across a swathe of southern France, the highest level since the four-point system was created in 2003 as the hunt for the gunman continues.

Police bearing automatic weapons were yesterday standing in front of Jewish schools in Paris.