A massive manhunt is underway in France on Monday to find the perpetrator of the fatal shootings of three children and their teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse, in southwest France.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who flew to Toulouse where the sniper attacks on Ozar Hatorah Jewish day school occurred, called the killings a "national tragedy," the BBC reported. He has raised the state of alert for terrorism attacks in the southwest of the country to the highest level.
The violence--reportedly carried out by a gunmen on a black Yamaha motorcycle-- occurred as parents were dropping off their children at the school Monday morning.
"Witnesses said the gunman pulled up on a black scooter and began shooting at an area which serves as the drop-off point for the school's nursery- and primary-age children," the BBC report said. Killed were Jonathan Sandler, a teacher at the school, his two sons, ages 3 and 6, and an 8-year-old girl, daughter of the head teacher. The sniper also wounded a fifth person, a 17-year-old boy.
French police have said the gun used in the attack Monday is the same one used in shooting attacks that killed three French soldiers of north African descent in two separate incidents in the area last week.
French police are searching for three former French soldiers who were kicked out of the force in 2008 over alleged neo-Nazi ties, France's LePoint reported, believing they might be connected to the attacks, which seemingly have been targeting France's Jewish and North African communities.
"The police remain convinced that [the attacker] is military (still active or not), given his modus operandi, his way of moving and his use of his weapon," a translation of the report said.
Sarkozy and fellow French presidential candidates have temporarily suspended their campaigns in the wake of the shooting, while the investigation is underway.
Sarkozy and right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen have recently been criticized for raising concerns in the campaign about "halal" meat in France. Sarkozy has also drawn rebuke for his recent declaration that "there are too many foreigners" in France. The statements are seen as a ploy by Sarkozy to try to take votes away from Le Pen, but have been widely decried in France by both Jewish and Muslim communities as inflammatory. French presidential elections are scheduled for late April.
The White House expressed deep sadness over the horrific attacks. "We join the Government of France in condemning this unprovoked and outrageous act of violence in the strongest possible terms," NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement.