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French confounded by motivation in Jewish school shooting, earlier killings (+video)

Police linked today's shooting at a French Jewish school to two earlier shootings, both of ethnic minorities. Some French are drawing comparisons to the 1999 Columbine High School killings.

By Staff writer / March 19, 2012

A French schoolchild leaves a Jewish school in Paris watched by police officers, Monday, after the French Interior Minister ordered security to be tightened around all French Jewish schools after an attack on one in Toulouse, in southwest France.

Jacques Brinon/AP

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Paris

The shooting deaths of three French children and a rabbi at an orthodox Jewish school in Toulouse today seems timed for maximum impact and shock value, coming in the midst of a French national election that has raised issues of security and national identity.

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The killings are the worst suffered by France's small Jewish community in decades and the impact here is being compared to the Columbine High School shootings in the United States in 1999 or last summer's massacre of Norwegian youth at a youth political camp.

In Paris, silent protesters are marching from Republic Square to the Bastille tonight. The leading candidates for president, current leader President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist challenger François Hollande, suspended their campaigns to travel to Tolouse and denounced the murders. They will also refrain from campaigning on Tuesday.

With ballistics reports linking today's incident at the local Ozar Hatorah Jewish school school to two grisly slayings earlier this month that killed a total of three ethnic north African French paratroopers in the same region, the French are confounded by what the intended message of the killings is. 

French police in southwestern France have deployed hundreds of officers in one of the largest manhunts in France in recent memory. 

The seemingly disparate targets in the three incidents are difficult for police to connect the dots on: Jewish, military, and ethnic minority. Authorities say it may be significant that the slain paratroopers' unit fought in Afghanistan.

Whether it was a lone killer, as in last year's shooting spree in Arizona aimed at former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, or a plot involving several individuals, perhaps from Pakistan or Afghanistan, is unclear. Some Paris sources familiar with political extremism told the Monitor the work is likely that of a small radical sect on the right or left, possibly Aryan, with a score to settle.

Parisian magazine Le Point offered one of the more provocative ideas in the short life of the incident: The elite 17th French paratroop division in Montauban, near Toulouse – of which the three killed paratroopers were a part – has a history of neo-Nazi and fascist sentiment. Several troops were drummed out of the division in 2008 after an investigation and after the Parisian magazine Canard Enchaine published photos of them giving the Nazi salute set against a backdrop of swastikas. 

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