Toulouse shooting suspect’s standoff continues [VIDEO]


The standoff in France between police and Mohammed Merah, the suspect in the shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, stretched into its 13th hour Wednesday.

The standoff began at 3 a.m. Wednesday outside the Toulouse home of Merah, a 24-year-old French national of Algerian descent who claims ties to al-Qaida was continuing, French authorities said.

Merah reportedly has been known to French intelligence for many years.

On Wednesday morning, thousands attended the funeral in Jerusalem of the attack’s four victims two days earlier.

French police surrounded Merah’s home in the morning. Merah, in contact with the police, reportedly had agreed to turn himself later in the day before abruptly cutting off communication with police. The suspect’s brother, and possibly other siblings, reportedly had been arrested, and two police officers were injured in a shootout outside the home, according to reports.

Story continues after the jump

Video from MarkStoneSkyNews

The Ozar Hatorah school reopened Wednesday for the first time since the attack, in which a man riding a motorbike opened fire Monday outside the school where students were waiting to enter the building at the start of the school day.

Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and his two young sons, as well as the 7-year-old daughter of the school’s principal, were killed in the attack.

Thousands attended the funeral of the victims on Wednesday morning at Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul cemetery.

“Your grief, your pain is ours too,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said at the funeral. “All of France is in shock.”

On Tuesday, three former French soldiers accused of having neo-Nazi ties who had been suspected of possible involvement in the shooting attack were questioned and released by French police.

Forensic tests found that the weapon used in the attack at the school was the same one used in a pair of fatal shooting attacks last week targeting off-duty French soldiers in and near Toulouse. The shootings, which also were committed by a gunman on a motorbike, left three soldiers dead and another seriously wounded. The soldiers who were shot were of North African or Caribbean background.

Sarkozy: Gunman in French shootings driven by racism [VIDEO]


French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the same gunman who shot dead a teacher and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday was also responsible for the killing of three soldiers last week, apparently motivated by racism.

“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.”

Sarkozy also said he would suspend his campaign for France’s April-May presidential election until Wednesday.

Reporting By Daniel Flynn and Leigh Thomas; editing by Nicolas Vinocur

 

L.A.’s French Jews react to Toulouse killings


French Jews in Southern California reacted with sadness and disgust, but not surprise, to the shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, that left three children and one teacher dead.

“In France you are scared – you cannot even wear a kippah on the street,” said Francky Perez, who moved with his wife from Paris to Los Angeles three years ago to allow their children, now 6 and 7, to express their Judaism in a safe environment. “Even if what happened in Toulouse turns out not to be anti-Semitism, you cannot pretend that hate doesn’t exist in France. It’s a reality.”

At press time Tuesday, the gunman remained at large. On Monday, a man on a motorcycle opened fire as students and parents were entering Ozar Hatorah at the start of the day, then chased students into the school as he continued shooting. Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and his two sons, Gavriel, 3, and Aryeh, 6, were killed. The school’s principal, Rabbi Yaacov Monsonego, saw his 7-year-old daughter Miriam killed in front of him. A 17-year-old boy is in critical condition.

The area in southwestern France remains under heavy security.

“We’re all absolutely shocked. A tragedy like this shows the worst of human nature, if we can still talk about human nature in this case,” said David Martinon, France’s consul general in Los Angeles.

French investigators have linked the shooting at the 200-student school to two shootings in the area last week that killed three soldiers and left another critically injured. The soldiers were of North African and Caribbean descent.

[UPDATE: More on this story

French Teens in L.A. Share Their Fears


From a distance, the 23 teens hanging out in the Adat Ari El courtyard in Valley Village look like American high school students on a break between classes. A thin, bespectacled boy in a sporty T-shirt sings along with the J.Lo and Ja Rule tune on his headphones, while a pretty girl spoons peanut butter out of a jar to share with her friends. A car pulls up at the front of the building and a petite girl in a floral tank top and low-rise jeans hops out and joins the group. Yet, her telltale greeting, a smooch on both cheeks and a hearty "bonjour!" distinguish these students from their American counterparts.

The teens are visiting Los Angeles on a three-week French Jewish exchange program called CAEJ (Centre Anglo European Jeunesse Juive/British European Center for Jewish Youth). While visiting places, such as Universal Studios, Dodger Stadium, Hurricane Harbor and the Museum of Tolerance, the students stay with Jewish families, practice their English and soak up Jewish American culture. But while searching for celebrities and bonding with new friends, the students can’t help but remember the anti-Semitic experiences they’ve had back in France.

When discussing his life in Rueil Malmaison, a Paris suburb, 16-year-old Oliver Dahan’s usually goofy antics disappear. "In France, you can’t wear a kippah if you don’t want to be hurt," he says. Dahan then recounts the story of some friends who dared to don their yarmulkes on the street. "The [Arab] people came to fight them and they had to run fast." Carole Teboul, 16, from Paris, says that she always hides her Star of David necklace under her shirt when she rides the subway or the bus at home. "Sometimes old men or old women will yell, ‘Kill all Jews!’ when I’m on the bus. They are very narrow-minded," she says.

Laura Schusselblum, 16, hails from the northern city of Strasbourg. "I live in the Jewish quarter of my town. A lot of synagogues have been burned. We have one or two Jewish cemeteries and they put graffiti on the tombstones. It’s like the intifada. It’s very hard to live," she says sadly.

Some of the students admitted they felt safer as Jews on the streets of Los Angeles. The teens link the violence against Jews with angry Arab activists. Most have negative associations with Muslims, although Schusselblum said that the few Muslim students at her school are "very nice." Jean Charles Aouizerate, the 23-year-old chaperone for the group, says, "It disturbs me that we talk about Arabs all the time. We put them all in the same bag and it doesn’t seem right."

Through CAEJ, the students are able to escape the religious hardship at home and experience Judaism in another part of the world. CAEJ was founded in 1966 by Charles Labiod, a Parisian Jew of Tunisian descent, who is an active member of the French Jewish community. Labiod is a member of the Consistoire Central de France, an umbrella organization that unites many synagogues countrywide. Labiod founded CAEJ when he learned that Jewish adolescents on foreign exchange programs were often placed with non-Jewish host families. Since then, he has organized programs for Jewish youth and families from France. Participants can travel to England, Israel, the Alps and Los Angeles.

In a recent visit to Los Angeles, Labiod addressed congregants at Adat Ari El about Judaism, France and Israel. "[President Jacques] Chirac likes the Jews in France," he said. "He is very proud and protective of the Jews. As for Israel, it’s like the crusades of South Africa. He believes Israel will just fade away and disappear." Labiod is clearly baffled that Chirac makes such a huge distinction between Israel and Jews at large.

The students concurred with Labiod’s assessment. While they say that their experiences with anti-Semitism are disturbing, many of them refuse to remain passive. During the government elections a few months back, Dahan remembers seeing graffiti around his town that said things like "Death to the Jews."

"When I see this stuff, I erase it or scratch it off," he says, "I’m not afraid of getting caught."

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