French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo credit: Crown Copyright
A manhunt is underway in Southern France after a gunman shot dead three children and a teacher outside a Jewish school in Toulouse. According to reports, the man, dressed in black and with his face obscured by a motorcycle helmet, pursued children into the school before escaping on a scooter. French police have linked the attack to two similar recent incidents in the region that left three soldiers dead and one in critical condition. The anti-terrorism squad has taken over the investigation.
Speculation is rife as to the motive behind the violence. According to The Independent, investigators had initially believed the attacks were connected to the French military presence in Afghanistan. But the school killings have prompted police to look into the possibility of a far-Right extremist link: the soldiers killed were of North African descent, and the same weapon was used in all three attacks. The Daily Mail reported that police attention is now focused on three French soldiers who were recently discharged from the army because of their “neo-Nazi” connections.
Candidates in the spring French presidential election, including incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, have suspended campaigning in the wake of the killings. But some commentators have argued that the attacks may well have sprung at least in part from the political climate created in the run-up elections. Centre-Right Sarkozy has been accused in the French media of dragging his party even further to the Right in an attempt to revive his flagging approval ratings.
Possible motives. “One theory is that the man is a deranged far-rightwinger” with a gun obsession and a hatred of minorities, deliberately targeting Jews and Muslims, wrote Hugh Schofield at the BBC. However, Schofield said, there is no evidence at the moment that the gunman targeted the soldiers because he believed them to be Muslim; he may have a grudge against the army. “It does raise the possibility of a second theory: that the killer hates soldiers because of France’s military presence in Afghanistan. So maybe – some are saying – he could be a deranged Islamist, which would also explain his hatred of Jews,” Schofield wrote. But whatever attempts the killer may make at self-justification, the fact remains that he turned a gun on a three-year-old: “It also seems likely that psychologically he is deeply disturbed.”
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant announced that the gunman filmed the attack on a Jewish School in Toulouse using a camera around his neck, reported Reuters.
Sarkozy under pressure. “In recent days, an unsavoury battle for far-Right votes has erupted between Nicolas Sarkozy, the centre-Right incumbent, and Marine Le Pen, running for the nationalist, anti-immigrant National Front party,” wrote Henry Samuel in The Telegraph. According to Samuel, Sarkozy is gambling that a move to the Right will put him ahead of Socialist frontrunner François Hollande in the first round of the presidential elections. Traditionally, Samuel said, mainstream candidates “court extremes” in the first round in order to avoid being knocked out, before toning down the rhetoric. And Sarkozy is under more pressure than ever to win votes: “He is facing record popularity lows for a president at the end of a first mandate and a majority of French today say they will under no circumstances vote for him.”
Candidates in the French presidential elections have unanimously condemned the attack on the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse. “The political exercise is delicate so deep into the presidential campaign, with candidates walking a thin line between clearly registering solemn dismay and appearing to play cynically for votes on the back of tragedy,” wrote Tracy McNicoll at The Daily Beast.
Political cynicism. “Nicolas Sarkozy has lurched his party wildly to the right in an attempt to save his skin, claiming there were ’too many immigrants in France’ and stoking Islamophobia with a ridiculous claim that the French were being secretly forced to eat halal,” wrote Fiachra Gibbons at The Guardian’s Comment is Free. “Today in Toulouse we have been given a horrific illustration of where such delirious cynicism can lead.” Gibbons criticised Sarkozy’s hypocrisy in calling for the French people to take a stand against hate “having spent the past few months manically stirring it”. As with Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian gunman who massacred 77 people at a social democrats summer camp in 2011, “politicians will be quick to the thesis of the lone madman”, wrote Gibbons – therefore ignoring the wider malaise in France.