TOULOUSE, France (Reuters) - The gunman who shot dead three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school was a cold, cruel killer who filmed his carnage, France’s interior minister said, as the country prepared to hold a silent tribute to the victims on Tuesday.
Claude Gueant told reporters video surveillance tapes at the school in Toulouse showed the gunman was recording his shooting spree with a small video camera attached to his neck.
“This adds another element to the profile of the killer. It is someone who is cruel enough to record it,” Gueant said at a primary school in the southwestern city.
“This shows a profile of the murderer as someone who is very cold, very determined, with precise gestures, and therefore very cruel,” Gueant added.
The school attack, and the killing of three soldiers last week, has stunned France and prompted President Nicolas Sarkozy and other leading candidates to suspend campaigning for next month’s presidential election.
More than 200 police officers have joined the hunt for the gunman, who is the prime suspect in the killing of three paratroopers in two separate shootings last week in Toulouse and the nearby town of Montauban, to the north.
Gueant said police were pursuing several leads into the attacks, which shared a number features. In each attack, the gunman arrived on a stolen scooter and used a Colt 45 handgun.
Sarkozy ordered security tightened in Toulouse, with guards posted at religious sites and the terror alert raised to its highest level in Toulouse and the surrounding region.
“We will track down this monster. We will find him, bring him to justice and punish him,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said of the killer on France 2 television.
A child who survived the attack spoke of his feelings of terror as the shots rang out through the school.
“We were getting ready for prayers when the principal stormed in and screamed that there was a shooting. I panicked and fled to the old canteen and heard the shots, but saw nothing,” an 11-year old boy who survived the attack told France Info radio.
“I thought he was going to come in any minute and finish us all. Then I waited and waited and then my daddy came to get me,” he said.
Police have not named a suspect but are searching the city of around one million for a man they believed could be a trained marksman, as well as the Yamaha scooter he used to flee. The shooter’s face was hidden by a motorcycle helmet during the attack.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who said on Monday the school killings appeared to be motivated by racism, was due to attend a one minute silent vigil at 1100 a.m. (1000 GMT) in a Paris secondary school. Schools in all of France will observe a minute of silence.
At the entrance to the school, a five-floor brick building in a leafy residential neighbourhood, residents and parents left floral tributes and candles in memory of the victims.
The bodies of three of the victims, who had dual French and Israeli nationality, were expected to be sent to Israel but no details were available about the timing.
Monday’s shooting was the most deadly anti-Semitic attack on French soil in nearly 30 years. In August, 1982, six people were killed in a combined grenade and gun attack at the Goldenberg restaurant in Paris’ Marais Jewish district.
“Anti-Semitism exists in France, we have fought it for years,” Juppe said. He said Jewish organisations had complained about an increase in anti-Semitic incidents recently, but rejected suggestions racial tensions stirred during the campaign could have triggered the attacks.
“Nobody should try to benefit in any way from this drama, which is in no way linked to the electoral campaign,” Juppe said.
Sarkozy, who is seeking re-election in a two-round election in April and May, said he would suspend his campaign until Wednesday. Far-right chief Marine Le Pen, trailing frontrunner Hollande and Sarkozy, also made a similar pledge.
Dominique Reynie, head of the Fondapol politics institute, said the killings could transform the election campaign, five weeks before polling day.
“The tone of the campaign cannot go back to what it was,” he told Reuters. “The campaign was dominated by an aggressive tone and a strong degree of populist rhetoric. This rhetoric will cease because there will be voter demand for healing.”
Additional reporting by Geert De Clercq, Emmanuel Jarry and Marine Pennetier; writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Jon Boyle