While crowds of weeping mourners gathered at a Jerusalem cemetery as the funerals for three French-Israeli children and a teacher who were gunned down at a Jewish school in France got under way, French police in Toulouse surrounded the alleged terrorist.
The mother of seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego (bottom center) mourns during the joint funeral service in Jerusalem for her daughter and the other three victims of Monday's shooting in Toulouse March 21, 2012. Brad Ratner • Reuters
Israel mourns as victims of French attack buried
By Yoav Lemmer • Agence France-Presse
JERUSALEM — Crowds of weeping mourners gathered at a Jerusalem cemetery on Wednesday as the funerals for three French-Israeli children and a teacher who were gunned down at a Jewish school in France got under way.
Among the 2,000 or so people at the sprawling Givat Shaul cemetery on the western outskirts of Jerusalem were French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and some 50 relatives and family friends, who arrived in Israel shortly after dawn in a plane carrying the remains of the dead.
Four coffins containing the bodies of 30-year-old teacher Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 4, and seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego, were flown from Toulouse to Paris on Tuesday before continuing to Israel, where the two bereaved families had asked that their loved ones be buried.
Juppe held talks with Israeli President Shimon Peres early on Wednesday, and told reporters afterwards that the Toulouse attack had bound together France and the Jewish state.
"In some ways, it was the blood of our two countries that flowed on Monday at the Ozar Hatorah school," he said.
"I have come here in the name of the president of the republic and the French government to share the grief of the Monsonego and Sandler families."
France has launched a massive manhunt for the gunman behind Monday's attack on the school, with the killer believed to be responsible for two other deadly shootings which left three soldiers dead in the same area.
As the plane headed for Israel, elite French police mounted a pre-dawn raid on a property in Toulouse where a 24-year-old man claiming to be linked to al-Qaida was holed up inside a building, sources close to the investigation told AFP.
French police named the suspect as Mohammed Merah and said he was of Algerian origin.
The suspect told officers he wanted to avenge Palestinian children killed in the conflict with Israel and to attack the French army, France's Interior Minister Claude Gueant said.
Monday's attack saw the gunman open fire on a group of parents and children outside the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, killing Sandler and his two sons in the street.
He then ran into the school grounds and shot dead the seven-year-old daughter of the school director. Another student, a 17-year-old boy, was critically injured in the attack.
The victims were shot at point blank range before the gunman fled the scene on a scooter.
The bloody assault sparked horrified denunciations from across France and around the world, particularly in Israel, and prompted police to impose an unprecedented terror alert in the southwest as they sought the killer.
French investigators believe the gunman also killed three soldiers in two other attacks last week.
The soldiers were French citizens of North African origin, while another who was critically wounded in the attack was black and from the French West Indies.
Israel's deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon hailed the ongoing police operation unfolding in Toulouse and thanked Juppe for Paris' "urgent action to find the assailants and bring them to justice."
"Today, all Israel is in pain and mourning over the deaths of innocent children and a dedicated father," he said after greeting the minister and the families of the dead as they landed in Israel.
The school shootings sparked a wave of revulsion across the world, particularly in Israel, where many commentators expressed concern over the rise of a wave of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Meanwhile, a suspect claiming to be linked to Iraqi Al-Qaeda is holed up in a house in Toulouse, surrounded by police:
France shooting suspect holed up in building
TOULOUSE, France (AP) — French police exchanged fire and were negotiating Wednesday with a gunman who claims connections to al-Qaida and is suspected of killing three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers.
Two police officers have been injured in the raid on a house in the southwest city of Toulouse, French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said.
The suspect is 24 years old, of French nationality and says that ‘‘he belongs to al-Qaida,’’ Gueant told reporters at the scene. He said the suspect ‘‘wants to take revenge for Palestinian children’’ killed in the Middle East, and is angry at the French military for its operations abroad.
The man was known to authorities for having spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gueant said.
The man’s brother was arrested, Gueant said.
Officers brought the suspect’s mother to the scene and tried to get her to help negotiate, but she refused, saying ‘‘she had little influence on him,’’ Gueant said.
Some 300 police moved into the residential neighborhood in northern Toulouse ahead of the raid, Didier Martinez of the SGP Police union said.
Authorities have been conducting a massive manhunt across a swath of southern France after seven people were killed in three attacks over the past several days, and France’s terror alert level was raised to its highest level ever in the region.
A French paratrooper was killed in Toulouse on March 11, two other paratroopers were killed and one injured on Thursday in the nearby town of Montauban, and three children and a rabbi were killed in a shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday.
The suspect in the attacks drove a powerful motorcycle, and the same weapon, a Colt 45, was used in all three shootings. Another less powerful weapon also was used in the attack on the Jewish school.
Police arrived overnight Wednesday to raid the house in Toulouse, near the site of the first killing.
‘‘When they arrived ... the wanted individual shot at the door,’’ Gueant said.
‘‘We heard gunfire three times, and we turned on the television. Then, the police phone to say to stay in the house,’’ said Wafia Bendali, 26, who lives on the third floor of the large residence where the raid was in progress. She said she believed the suspect lived on the first floor. She said police were in the street.
Another neighbor, Farida Boumama, 48, said her family woke up to voices at 3 a.m. and heard gunfire an hour later.
‘‘I went to open the window to look out and police shouted, ‘Go inside and close the shutters,'’’ she said.
One officer was injured in the knee and another officer was lightly injured in ensuing exchanges of fire, Gueant said.
For years the main terrorist threat that French authorities have been concerned about has been al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which grew from an extremist group in the former French colony of Algeria.
French officials have been worried that the group may try to conduct an action in France ahead of presidential elections in April and May, a counterterrorism official told The Associated Press this week. So far, it has never succeeded in reaching across the Mediterranean Sea to strike in Europe.
The suspect ‘‘is a terrorist ... I think all terrorists are crazy whatever their motivation,’’ said Marc Sztulman, head of the Mediterranean branch of the main Jewish organization, CRIF.
‘‘I see absolutely no connection between killers of children in a school under the pretext they are Jewish and what is happening 6,000 kilometers away,’’ he said after meeting with the interior minister. ‘‘Only a crazy man can make the link.’’
While the Toulouse raid was under way, the bodies of the four victims of the school shooting arrived in Israel for burial. The three children and a rabbi will be buried in a Jerusalem cemetery later Wednesday.
They were gunned down on Monday in the deadliest school shooting France has ever known and the bloodiest attack on Jewish targets in decades.
The bodies of the rabbi, two of his children and a daughter of the school’s principal were accompanied to Israel by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. They landed early Wednesday.
Thomas Adamson and Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed to this report.
What follows is the first detailed account of the murders:
French school shooting: CCTV shows cold-blooded killer in yard
By Fiona Govan • The Daily Telegraph / DNA
Heartbreaking details of the cold-blooded shooting of three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday have emerged from CCTV footage of a massacre that has caused an outpouring of revulsion and grief in France.
The images show how the lone gunman wearing a motorcycle helmet hunted down individual children after opening fire at the school gates in an attack that left four dead and a teenager fighting for his life.
Eight-year-old Myriam Monsonego clutched her satchel as the killer chased her through the school gates and into the courtyard. He pulled her towards him by her hair and raised a gun to shoot her.
The video footage appears to show that, at that moment, his gun jammed.
Determined to carry out his killing spree, he kept hold of the girl, changed weapons from what police identified as a 9-mm pistol to a.45 calibre weapon, and delivered a shot to her temple at close range.
He then turned, calmly walked out of the school gates, mounted a powerful Yamaha scooter and sped away.
Moments later, an older pupil carried Myriam's body to her father, Yaacov Monsonego, a rabbi and the principal of the school, who had been praying in the synagogue before the start of class when shots broke out. He cradled his daughter in his arms as she died.
The attack began at around 8am on Monday morning as pupils were dropped off at the school in the leafy suburb of La Roserie, a few miles north of Toulouse city centre. It was over in a matter of minutes.
The first victim was Jonathan Sandler, a 30-year-old rabbi and teacher at the Ozar Hatorah school, who was shot outside the school gates as he attempted to shield his two young sons, Aryeh, 6, and Gavriel, 3, from the gunman.
CCTV footage from a camera at the gates reportedly showed that one of the boys was shot as he crawled away on his hands and knees while his father and brother lay dying on the pavement.
A 16-year-old pupil with knowledge of first aid bravely attempted to resuscitate one of the boys, keeping him alive until paramedics arrived.
"A friend and I carried the boy into the school and because I did a first aid course last year I knew to give him mouth-to-mouth and heart massage," explained the pupil, who gave only his first name, Aaron, in an interview with Sud-Ouest newspaper. "His pulse resumed. He was alive and then paramedics arrived and took over. But later I heard he had died."
Nicole Yardini, who leads the regional branch of CRIF, a national Jewish organisation, and has seen the CCTV footage, described it as sickening.
"It was like a horror film, something unreal. I can't say more. He shot a little girl in the head in cold blood. When I say it I want to vomit."
France came to a halt at 11 am yesterday (Tuesday) when a minute's silence was observed in memory of the victims.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, after observing the silence at a secondary school in Paris, described the gunman as a "monster" and vowed to track him down.
"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 said.
"Civilisation cannot guard us from the madness of certain men, from the barbarism of certain men. What strikes me most is the coldness with which he acted.
"This has happened in Toulouse, in a religious school with children from Jewish families, but it could have happened here. The same killer could have come here, these children are exactly like you," Mr Sarkozy told pupils.
"It is so serious a matter that the entire republic must be concerned.?.?. for your families and for yourselves. We will do everything to arrest him."
Floral tributes, candles, toys and poignant messages to the victims lay at the school gates on Rue Jules-Dalou in La Roserie yesterday. Armed police stood guard.
The high cement walls of the school were marked with bullets sprayed by the killer and devastation was etched on the faces of those pupils, family and friends who had spent an overnight vigil alongside the coffins of the victims.
The bodies were to be flown overnight to Israel where a funeral will be held today.
The Ozar Hatorah school of 200 pupils was also expected to reopen. "The children are in shock but they need to come together here, to undergo catharsis together," said the local Jewish leader Arie Bensemhoun, adding that the school would get back on its feet quickly "even if the blood has not yet dried".