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French hunt school killer, suspect neo-Nazi ties

TOULOUSE, France (AP) — Police searched southern France on Tuesday for an expert gunman suspected of fatally shooting seven people in the head at close range in attacks that may have been motivated by neo-Nazi ties or grudges against minorities.

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Mourners follow the hearse carrying the coffins of the victims Tuesday, following a ceremony at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school where a gunman opened fire killing four people in Toulouse, southwestern France. A father and his two sons were among four people who died Monday when a gunman opened fire in front of a Jewish school.

The shooter is suspected of carrying out three deadly attacks: leaving four people dead on Monday at a Jewish school in Toulouse, three of them young children; killing two French paratroopers and seriously wounding another last Thursday in nearby Montauban; and fatally shooting another paratrooper in Toulouse on March 11.

All the victims in the school attack were Jewish with duel French-Israeli citizenship, and the paratroopers were of North African or French Caribbean origin. The shots were fired at such close range that the gunfire burned the skin, prosecutor Francois Molins said Tuesday.

“We are confronted with an individual extremely determined in his actions, an armed individual who acts always with the same modus operandi,” he said, “in cold blood ... with premeditated actions.”

He added the crimes appear to be premeditated due to the killer’s “choices of victims and the choices of his targets” — the army, the foreign origin of the victims or their religion.

The killer could “act again,” he said.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant described the suspect as “someone very cold, very determined, very much a master of his movements, and by consequence, very cruel.”

However, his suggestion the attacker was wearing a camera around his neck that could be used to film and post video online was described by the prosecutor as “a hypothesis.”

On Tuesday night, the school attack victims were being flown to Israel for burial there, accompanied by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.

A funeral service is being held Wednesday in Montauban for the paratroopers.

All three attacks — which also left a paratrooper and a teenage boy seriously wounded — were carried out by a man on a powerful Yamaha motorcycle who was wearing a helmet and carrying a Colt 45, Molins told reporters in Paris.

But he said other clues to the killer’s identify were scarce.

Molins noted the attacks had occurred every four days, but said he could not address security arrangements that might be in place Friday — the fourth day after the attack on the Jewish school.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has raised the terror alert for the southwest region to scarlet, the highest level on the four-color scale that automatically added 14 new units of riot police and gendarmes to the region.

Hundreds of extra police will be on duty Wednesday for the funeral services of the three paratroopers and Sarkozy will speak.

A “monster” is on the loose in France, Sarkozy declared, vowing to track him down.

“There are beings who have no respect for life. When you grab a little girl to put a bullet in her head, without leaving her any chance, you are a monster. An anti-Semitic monster, but first of all a monster,” he said.

The focus fell Tuesday on three paratroopers who had been expelled from their regiment near Toulouse in 2008 for neo-Nazi sympathies, a police official said.

The prosecutor said that track was among those being studied. Investigators also are checking the hypothesis the killer could be a former soldier with psychological issues or with racist and anti-Semitic motives.

The killer has shown he can handle large-caliber guns with expertise, leading some to suspect he had a military or police background.

France was reeling Tuesday after the school attack, the deadliest school shooting in the country and the bloodiest attack on Jewish targets in decades. Schools across the country — and French schools around the world — held a moment of silence Tuesday to honor the victims.

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