A Jewish school targeted by a radical Islamist in the south of France on Thursday hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and paid homage to victims of the March attack, France’s worst terrorist violence since the 1990s.
Netanyahu and French President Francois Hollande visited the school where three children and a young rabbi were shot to death by 23-year-old Frenchman Mohamed Merah.
Merah also killed three French paratroopers and later died in a shootout with police.
France has struggled with anti-Semitic attacks in the months since.
Hollande, after meeting Netanyahu in Paris on Wednesday, said the visit to the school was a way to demonstrate France’s determination to fight hatred toward Jews.
“There is anti-Semitism, we must chase it down, pursue it, eradicate it,” Hollande said. “When a citizen, because he is Jewish, sees his security threatened, it is the whole nation that is attacked.”
Netanyahu, while expressing horror at the Toulouse attacks, said Wednesday, “It goes without saying that successive French governments have fought very clearly against anti-Semitism.”
The March 19 attack on the Toulouse school, then called Ozar Hatorah but since renamed Ohr Tora, stunned France with its calculated brutality against unsuspecting schoolchildren heading to class on a Monday morning.
Merah entered the school and fired directly at children. He chased down 8-year-old Miriam Monsonego, grabbed her and shot her in the head.
A father and two of his children were also killed: Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and his sons 4-year-old Gabriel and 5-year-old Arieh.
The victims had joint French and Israeli citizenship, and were buried in Israel.
The attacks raised questions about France’s counterterrorism efforts, after authorities acknowledged that Merah had been under surveillance and traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan for apparent militant training.
The families of the victims of Merah have called for a parliamentary inquiry into failures that allowed him to carry out his attack.
The families’ attorney, Patrick Klugman, said the parliament should set up a committee of inquiry in light of the findings of a recent report, which named “objective failures” in the authorities’ handling of Merah, a 23-year-old Muslim radical whom police killed in a gun fight after the murders.
The report by France’s police comptroller unit said the failures meant that French authorities miscalculated the threat posed by Merah.
At the moment, “there is no official instance represented in the investigation that can clear the barriers and evaluate all the conflicting accounts,” said Klugman, a former president of France’s Union of French Jewish Students and well-known campaigner against anti-Semitism.
Merah, who had made several trips to trouble spots in the Middle East and thousands of telephone calls all over the world, had been under some form of surveillance for approximately two years before he struck, but only in November 2011 did his file reach the French domestic intelligence agency DCRI.
Liberation, a French daily, revealed on October 31 that two police officers from Toulouse, Christian Ballé-Andui and an agent identified only as “Hassan,” recommended that their superior consider arresting the already radicalized Merah as early as June 2011 for conspiring to commit a crime. Their warnings went unheeded.
Since March, French officials and France’s Jewish community have been on alert.
Thursday’s tribute came the day after a radical Muslim preacher was expelled from France because of his anti-Semitic speeches, calls for violent holy war and defense of violence toward women. The Interior Ministry said Mohamed Hammami of the Omar Mosque in Paris was expelled to his native Tunisia for his “deliberate, repeated and unacceptable provocations,” which constitute a threat to France’s society and security.
Earlier this month, the government said it dismantled a network of French-born Islamists bent on targeting Jews, after a firebomb attack on a Jewish grocery.
In addition to hosting Europe’s largest Jewish community, France has a large Muslim population, and Mideast politics often prompt public debate here. Groups of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered in Paris and Toulouse on Wednesday night, criticizing Netanyahu’s policies toward Palestinians.
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