JERUSALEM (JTA) — French President Nicolas Sarkozy canceled re-election campaign events following the attack by an unidentified gunman on a Jewish school in Toulouse.
“This is a day of national tragedy because children were killed in cold blood,” Sarkozy said after arriving in Toulouse, a city of 1.1 million in southwestern France. “Barbarity, savagery, cruelty cannot win. Hate cannot win. We will find him.”
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant ordered security to be tightened around all Jewish schools in France after the attack at the Ozar Hatorah School.
The dead are reported to be Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, a dual French and Israeli citizen; the rabbi’s 4- and 5-year-old sons; and the 7-year-old daughter of the school’s principal. Forensic tests found that the weapon used in the attack at the school was the same one used in a pair of fatal shooting attacks last week targeting off-duty French soldiers in and near Toulouse. The shootings, which also were committed by a gunman on a motorbike, left three soldiers dead and another seriously wounded. The soldiers who were shot were of North African or Caribbean background.
Many of the Jewish groups and leaders who condemned the attack warned of rising anti-Semitism in Europe.
“This is a brazen assault on France and French society, and another telling reminder of the dangers that exist for Jewish communities in today’s world,” David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement.
Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman noted that the Jewish community of Toulouse has been targeted in the past three years with anti-Semitic acts of violence.
“Whoever did this is looking to target the Jewish community at its weakest point, its youth, in the hopes of spreading fear throughout the community,” Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, said in a statement. “They will not succeed. The Jews of Europe in general and the Jews of France in particular have a long history of standing firm against hatred and violence, and I know as a community French Jewry will send a message of strength and resilience in the face of those who wish to terrorize them.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would do everything to help France track down the killer.
“Today we had a savage crime in France that gunned down French Jews, among them children,” Netanyahu said. “It’s too early to say what the precise background for this act of murder is, but I think that we can’t rule out that there was a strong murderous anti-Semitic motive here.”
He continued, “I haven’t heard yet a condemnation from any of the U.N. bodies, but I have heard that one such body, the U.N. Human Rights Council, invited on this very day a senior representative of Hamas.”
The United States also condemned the attack.
“We were deeply saddened to learn of the horrific attack this morning against the teachers and students of a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse,” said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the victims, and we stand with a community in grief.”
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP, “We are horrified by this attack and we trust the French authorities to shed full light on this tragedy and bring the perpetrators of these murders to justice.”