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Four shot dead at Jewish school in France; gun used in earlier attacks

A mass manhunt is underway for the person who killed four people at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. NBC's Jim Maceda reports.

Updated at 10:30 p.m. ET: The gunman who fatally shot three children a young rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France on Monday remains at large after fleeing the scene on a moped through the city's backstreets. The killer has been described by French media as the "most wanted man in France," since President Nicolas Sarkozy said the bullets from a .45-caliber pistol he used matched one that was used in two previous fatal attacks in the last two weeks.

"This act is horrific and cannot remain unpunished," Sarkozy said in a televised address, adding that the terrorism alert level in France had been raised to its highest level ever. Sarkozy flew to Toulouse.

The killer was described as a short, overweight man who behaved calmly and appeared to handle his weapons with ease. He wears a helmet and rides the same stolen scooter. His victims have been ethnic minorities -- Jewish, North African or Jewish -- witnesses have said that in one of the attacks, the killer pushed aside a bystander to get to his victims, the BBC reported.

According to Le Figaro, a French newspaper, Sgt. Imad Ibn-Ziaten had posted a classified advertisement selling a motorcycle, and the suspect made plans to see it on Sunday, March 11. Ibn-Ziaten waited behind a school in a quiet area of Toulouse, essentially waiting for his killer to show up.

Because of these details, some fear the suspect may be a serial killer driven by racism.

"Everything leads one to believe that these were racist and anti-Semitic acts," Toulouse Mayor Pierre Cohen said on BFM-TV.


The gunman arrived at the Ozar-Hatorah middle and high school around 8:15 a.m. Monday morning and shot at people waiting on the curb for a shuttle, LaDepeche, the Toulouse newspaper reported. He killed 30-year old Hebrew teacher Jonathan Sandler, his two children, Arye, 6, and Gabriel, 3; and Miriam Monsonego, 8, the daughter of the school principal,  Toulouse prosecutor Michel Valet said.

The gunman chased 8-year-old Miriam into the concrete courtyard, stopping her by her hair, The New York Times reported. That's when his gun jammed. Still holding her, he switched weapons and shot her in the head.

A 17-year-old was seriously wounded.

Some 120 investigators were working on a manhunt for the killer and had already identified the license plate of the motorbike used in Monday's attack at the private Ozar Hatorah school, police sources said. The gunman used a second gun when the first jammed, the Toulouse prosecutor said.

French media said that security was being tightened at all Jewish schools in the country.

Religious minorities and issues of race have emerged as a prominent issue in France's current presidential campaign. The soldiers killed and injured were of North African and French Caribbean origin.

The assailant used a heavy-caliber firearm and another weapon. At least 15 shots were fired.

Nicole Yardeni, a local Jewish official who saw security video of the attack from the single camera near the school gate, described the shooter as "determined, athletic and well-toned." She said he wore a helmet with the visor down.

"You see a man park his motorcycle, start to shoot, enter the school grounds and chase children to catch one and shoot a bullet into her head," Yardeni said. "It's unbearable to watch and you can't watch anymore after that. He was looking to kill."

Parents who witnessed the incident -- which happened shortly before 8 a.m. local time (3 a.m. ET), as children were being dropped off at the school -- described the scene.

"I saw two people dead in front of the school, an adult and a child ... Inside, it was a vision of horror, the bodies of two small children," a distraught father told RTL radio, Reuters reported.

PhotoBlog: Images from the scene of the Toulouse school shooting

"I did not find my son, apparently he fled when he saw what happened. How can they attack something as sacred as a school, attack children only sixty centimeters [about two feet] tall?'' he added.

"It was terrible ... It felt like it lasted a long time," Charles Ben Semoun, a parent of a child at the school, told i-tele television, the Bloomberg news service said.

It was the worst anti-Semitic incident in France since August 1982, when six people were killed in a grenade attack and subsequent shooting at the Goldenberg restaurant in a Jewish neighborhood on Rue des Rosiers in central Paris. France's 600,000-strong Jewish community is Europe's largest.

The bodies were brought in hearses to the school Monday night for an evening vigil. All of the dead had joint Israeli-French citizenship and will be buried in Israel, the Israel Foreign Ministry said.

Monday's shootings come days after three soldiers were killed in two separate shootings in the same area by a man who also escaped from the scene by motorbike.

On March 10, a gunman shot and killed a paratrooper in Toulouse. Last Thursday, a masked gunman on a motorbike opened fire on three uniformed paratroopers at an ATM machine in Montauban, about 30 miles from Toulouse, killing two and critically wounding the other.

NBC News, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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