France says serial shootings amount to terrorism
By Alexandra Mayer-Hohdahl Mar 20, 2012, 18:41 GMT
Paris - A shooter who has killed seven people in France - including three children at a Jewish school - could be charged with terrorism, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday, amid reports that the gunman still on the loose may have filmed his most recent attack.
'It indeed appears that the circumstances of these three killings have caused a serious breach of the peace through intimidation or terror and can be characterized as acts of terrorism in the sense of the definition contained in our penal code,' Francois Molins said.
He pointed to the premeditated and systematic nature of the attacks - all the victims were shot point-blank 'in the area of the head,' Molins told reporters. The incidents may also have racist and anti-Semitic aspects, he said.
All the victims belonged to ethnic or religious minorities.
Speculation has been rife in the media that the attacker is a neo-Nazi with a military background. But Interior Minister Claude Gueant warned against excessive guesswork.
'We still don't know who he is. We haven't gotten that far,' he said of the suspect.
Molins said all leads were being explored, noting that thousands of hours of video surveillance footage still have to be reviewed.
One witness told police that the attacker had a mini camera strapped to his chest when he started shooting at the Ozar Hatarah school in the south-western city of Toulouse on Monday.
Investigators have scoured the internet for any corresponding video of the shooting, but have yet to find anything, Gueant said.
Surveillance video shows that the suspect was wearing a 'band' across his chest, Molins acknowledged, but said that the presence of a camera is 'at this moment only a hypothesis and nothing more.'
'It is clear that we are dealing with an individual who is extremely determined, who knows that he is hunted, who is capable of striking again,' he told reporters in Paris.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has placed the south-western region on the highest threat level of scarlet, denoting the risk of an imminent attack.
Molins noted that the incidents so far - which also left two people seriously injured - have each happened four days apart.
The same semi-automatic Colt handgun was used in all three attacks. The suspect is also reported to have used similar looking scooters in several of the attacks, but Molins rejected reports that the police had information on matching registration plates.
In the first two attacks, three French soldiers were killed in Toulouse and the nearby city of Montauban on March 11 and March 15. They were of North African and West Indian origin.
The victims in Monday's attack were all Jewish - 30-year-old religion teacher Jonathan Sandler; his sons Arieh, 6, and Gabriel, 3; and Myriam Monsonego, the 8-year-old daughter of the principal of the Ozar Hatarah school.
All four held both French and Israeli nationalities. They are to be buried in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe was expected to accompany the bodies on a flight from Paris, after Sarkozy paid his respects privately.
Schools across France on Tuesday honoured the victims with a minute of silence, along with the national assembly and Senate.
Sarkozy, who marked the minute's silence at a secondary school in Paris, said authorities would use 'all means necessary' in their search for the attacker.
A huge contingent of riot police have also been deployed across Toulouse and surrounding areas to protect religious schools and places of worship.
The European Union said in a statement that 'any form of persecution and violent acts against religious communities have no place in Europe' or the world.
'Europe has fought a long and painful battle to achieve freedom of thought, freedom of religion and belief and the respect for the individual,' EU President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said. 'The EU will continue to foster these rights.'
Jewish and Muslim organizations are planning to close ranks on Sunday by holding a joint silent march in Paris.
Read more about France Crime