A teacher and three students were killed when a man opened fire on parents and children waiting outside a school in Toulouse. Two incidents of “striking similarity” left three French soldiers dead last week.
Local prosecutor Michael Valet said that children aged three, six, and ten were among those killed, while a fourth child was badly injured. According to French television, several more people may have been wounded in the attack.
"He shot at everything he could see, children and adults, and some children were chased into the school," Valet told reporters.
Following the tragic events, President Nicolas Sarkozy put the country's southwestern Midi-Pyrenees region on "scarlet" alert – France’s highest terror level, AFP reports.
The incident took place at a Jewish school called Ozar Hatorah in the Joliment area of the city. The school has around 200 pupils. Witnesses say the shooting started at the busiest time of the day.
“There was a lot of commotion, this was when the school opened, the busiest moment when classes start and all the kids were arriving by car," a former student at the school said, as cited by AFP.
Witnesses say that the man fled the scene on a black and white scooter following the incident.
According to a preliminary investigation, the man opened fire with an automatic pistol before switching to another weapon when it misfired.
French police say the first automatic weapon employed had a caliber of 11.43, the same as the gun used to kill three French soldiers in the area last week.
A motorcyclist gunned down two paratroopers by a bank machine on Thursday in the nearby town of Montauban. In a similar incident four days earlier, a gunman on a motorcycle shot dead another paratrooper in Toulouse.
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant has ordered security to be stepped up around all French Jewish schools in response to the incident.
Visiting the scene of the deadly attack, Nicolas Sarkozy has expressed his deepest condolences to the relatives and friends of the victims. He announced a minute of silence in all French schools on Tuesday.
"This horror is a tragedy,” he said, assuring the state would throw its entire weight behind the investigation. “I don't have all the details to be able to know why anyone would do this. But I cannot accept it, this idea that people can be massacred in front of a school, in a school for Jewish children, it's a tragedy."
Sarkozy also admitted there were “striking similarities between attack on Jewish school and soldier's shooting last week” but added it was "too early" to link the shootings until the police and the judiciary make their conclusions.
Sarkozy’s Socialist opponent in the presidential race, Francois Hollande, also headed to Toulouse to show his "solidarity with the families and France's Jewish community," AFP reports.
With both Sarkozy and Hollande, both canceling scheduled events, the French presidential election campaign has virtually been put on hold.
Meanwhile, Israel said it was horrified by this “act of barbarity,” with foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor expressing his confidence that the French authorities will “shed full light on this tragedy and bring the perpetrators of these murders to justice.”