Midi-Pyrénées, the region in southwestern France stretching from Massif Central — the dark, wooded mountains of Auvergne, Rouergue, and Quercy — to the spacious Toulouse Valley and the Pyrenean cordillera on the Spanish border, was, since March 19, under “scarlet” alert: the closest France comes to martial law.
The army and police patrolled the entire area. Vehicles were subject to inspection at will. Police could half traffic without prior warning. Schools, shops, offices, and factories could be shut down by order and citizens required to stay home. Twenty-five sharpshooters from Raid had been dispatched from Paris. And naturally, telephone and internet connections were extensively monitored. No small matter considering that Greater Toulouse, the region’s capital and the seat of Airbus and other major industrial companies, is France’s fourth largest city with over one million inhabitants. In fact, this was the first time since the introduction in 1995 of Vigipirate, the French equivalent of Homeland Security, that France resorted to such drastic measures.
A chilling succession of killings in Toulouse and Montauban, an important military center one hundred miles away, triggered the “scarlet” alert.
The killing spree began on March 11, when a NCO of Maghrebine descent from the Montauban-based 17th Paratroopers Engineer Regiment, was drawn into a trap and shot in Toulouse. According to one witness, the attacker dressed as a motorbiker. Then, on March 15, three soldiers from the same unit — two Maghrebines and one Caribbean — were shot in Montauban while stopped at an ATM. The aggressor rode a motorbike and wore a leather outfit and opaque helmet. And finally, on March 19, another biker in full motorcylce gear — or possibly the same one — attacked the Jewish Ozar Hatora school complex in Toulouse. He first randomly fired at the parents, children, and teachers in the school’s courtyard before stepping down from his bike to kill four people in cold blood: 30 year-old religion teacher Jonathan Sandler, his sons Aryeh and Gabriel (5 and 4), and a 7-year-old girl, Myriam Monsenego, whom he grabbed by the hair to lodge a bullet in her head. He then jumped back on his bike and vanished from the massacre.