Terror attack on Jewish school in France a stark reminder of antisemitic threat

Terror attack on Jewish school in France a stark reminder of antisemitic threat
The four casulties

Last month, I wrote in defence of the security concerns of Australia’s Jewish community. With a heavy heart, I must note that these concerns have been unfortunately vindicated once again. Last night, a shooting attack outside Ozar Hatorah, a Jewish school in Toulouse, killed much-loved schoolteacher Yonatan Sandler, as well as his two sons — Aryeh, age five, and Gavriel, age four — as well as Miriam Monsonego, age seven. Another boy was injured.

According to the chilling AFP report, a masked gunman dismounted from a Yamaha scooter and began shooting, hitting Sandler as he tried in vain to sheild his sons. The shooter then chased after Miriam as she ran into the school, grabbing her and killing her at close range.

As reported in the Jerusalem Post, the leading suspects in the shooting are three French paratroopers who were dismissed from the army in 2008 due to suspected neo-Nazi links. The gun used in the attack has been linked to similar attacks last week on French soldiers of North African origin:

The first murder linked to the gun took place on March 11. Police found the body of Imad Ibn-Ziaten, a 30-year-old staff sergeant of North African descent, dead behind a school in Toulouse. Investigators suspect the off duty serviceman was lured there by his murderer.

Last Thursday a gunman riding a scooter and wearing a black helmet opened fire on three French soldiers in uniform at a shopping mall in Montauban, a city 50 kilometers north of Toulouse. Abel Chennouf, 24, and Mohamed Legouad, 26, both of North African descent, were killed. Loic Liber, 28, of Afro-Caribbean descent, was left in a coma.

On Monday morning a motorcyclist similar in description to the gunman involved in the second attack drove up to the entrance of Ozar Hatorah in Toulouse and opened fire on a group of parents and children that gathered outside on the start of the school day.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy condemned the attacks as racially motivated, even halting his campaign to personally oversee the investigation into them:

“We know that it is the same person and the same weapon that killed the soldiers, the children and the teacher,” Sarkozy said in a televised address, saying the terrorism alert level in France had been raised.

“This act is odious and cannot remain unpunished.”

… “We are struck by the similarities between the modus operandi of today’s drama and those last week even if we have to wait to have more elements from the police to confirm this hypothesis.”

As observed by Gil Taieb, a vice president of the CRIF, France’s Jewish umbrella group, the attack was on an obscure school in a quiet suburb and there could not have been any concievable motivation for killing these children aside from their Jewish identity:

“For someone to locate this school in a place like Toulouse means he knew what he was doing,” Taieb said. “He went there to kill Jews.”

A report in Haaretz gives more detail on the school and the neighbourhood in which it is situated, emphasizing its obscurity and the great lengths that the attacker must have gone to in order to select his target — reminiscent of the obscure Jewish guesthouse attacked during the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 (emphasis added):

“We didn’t know what was going on,” said David Gadage, a parent of one of the school’s students. “We had only just heard gunshots and within seconds the terrorist had disappeared. We are all in a state of shock right now. This is a quiet area and there have never been problems of anti-Semitism here before. We actually moved here because of the area’s peacefulness and because, unlike in other places, there are no problems here with the Muslim immigrants.”

… Toulouse’s Roseraie quarter, where the Jewish school is situated, is a quiet middle-class area, not far from the city center. The neighborhood is home to a Jewish community of about 20,000 people. The school also serves as a local synagogue and the site is home to a kollel for avrechim (a yeshiva for married students), who also work as teachers at the school.

About 200 students study at the small, private, religious school, which has no exterior signage to indicate that it is a Jewish institution. Intelligence work was apparently undertaken prior to the attack. The gunman took advantage of the fact that, despite the tall gates surrounding the school and security cameras at the entrance, no security guard was standing at the site. In the past, French schools were appointed armed security guards but a few months ago it was decided to decrease that level of security and cancel the guards.

Needless to say, the removal of the armed guards could have been the factor that allowed this despicable act to be carried-out. It is also worth noting these two pieces of information: firstly the revelation last night that the Indonesian terror cell recently gunned-down by Indonesian authorities was planning to attack Australian tourists; and secondly, revelations last week that a similar terror cell that was thwarted in 1999 had plans to attack Jewish targets in Australia.

The lamentable lesson to take away from this tragedy is that Jews remain a target of extremist groups everywhere and that there remains the unfortunate necessity to preserve security measures around Jewish communal institutions. Nobody enjoys dropping their children at a school where they are greeted by armed guards and then spend all day sheltered behind high walls with barbed wire, however this regrettable lifestyle remains a necessity for Jews in Australia and elsewhere so long as there is a persistent threat of attack. While one can only hope for a future free of violence motivated by racial predjudice, Jewish communities have no choice but to play the hand that we are dealt.

Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz