French anti-terrorist prosecutors have linked a shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse with two deadly attacks on soldiers in the same region last week.
A police source told the AFP news agency that the same weapon and the same stolen scooter appeared to have been used in all three attacks after Monday's school shooting left four people dead, including three children.
Politicians and justice officials noted similarities between Monday's incident and the March 11 murder of a soldier in the same southwestern city and another shooting four days later.
In that attack, three soldiers were shot, two fatally, in the garrison town of Montauban, just 46km away from Toulouse.
All three attacks were carried out by the rider of a powerful, dark-coloured scooter, using a .45-calibre weapon, who witnesses described as calmly shooting his victims at point-blank range.
In Montauban, witnesses told how the killer had time to turn over one of the wounded men who was trying to crawl away and fire three more shots into him before getting back on his scooter and making his escape.
The first victim, a 30-year-old non-commissioned officer, was dressed in civilian clothes when he was shot dead in a Toulouse street just eight days ago.
In Monday's killings, the shooter opened fire outside the school with a 9mm calibre weapon, which jammed.
He then produced a second weapon, a pistol of the same .45 calibre as that used in the other attacks, and chased children into the school to continue his spree.
Patrick Rouimi, the father of a child at the school, told the AFP news agency that the attacker opened fire on a group of people standing at a spot where children were picked up for school.
"He shot at everything he could see, children and adults, and some children were chased into the school," Michel Valet, the local prosecutor, told journalists.
The daughter of the school's director was seriously injured in the attack, said Charles Ben Semoun, a parent of another child in the school.
Nicole Yardeni, president of the Council of Jewish Institutions in France, told Al Jazeera that the children who were killed were younger siblings of those who attend the school.
"There is an eight-year-old, a six-year-old and a three-year-old that are dead and a 17-year-old that [attends] the school, that is between life and death at the hospital."
Yardeni said that a parent was also killed. She said the gunman had appeared "extremely determined because cameras showed [the attacker] running after the children and shooting at them".
"He was shooting at them, even catching them and shooting them in their heads," she said.
President Nicolas Sarkozy rushed to the school, ordering increased security at Jewish and Muslim buildings around Toulouse, while his prime minister ordered officials to "secure" all school and religious buildings in France, which has Europe's largest Jewish community, estimated at up to 700,000 people.
"It is a national tragedy," said Sarkozy, denouncing the "savagery" of the attack, and vowing to find the killer.
"We do not know who this killer is, the exact links with the drama that affected the military community, with the young soldiers killed in Montauban and Toulouse," he said.
"There are questions about the similar modus operandi in today's drama and those of last week, even if we must await more precise elements from the forensic police to confirm this hypothesis," Sarkozy said.
Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, said in a statement that he was "deeply shocked" by the shooting.
"Only a person possessing demonic evil could conduct such a terrible murder of small children at a school," his office quoted him as saying.
Reuven Rivlin, the speaker in the Israeli parliament, said the attack was against Jews and Israel and should alert the international community.
"Jewish children and a teacher were murdered this morning because they were Jewish," he said in remarks broadcast by military radio.
"This just shows the horrors of anti-Semitism, which also manifests in anti-Israeli (acts)... This should be a warning signal to the world."
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|William T. Hathaway|