- 11 March 2011. A French paratrooper is killed by a gunman on motorbike in Toulouse. 15 March, 50 km from Toulouse, in the French town of Montauban, two more French paratroopers are killed and one seriously injured by a gunman on a motorbike. Four days later, 19 March, a motorbike attacker guns down three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse.
That night, police investigators identify Mohamed Merah as as the chief suspect in the probe. They surround his house ans start the negociations. After the 32-hours siege, Merah died from a bullet to the head fired by a police sniper as he jumped from his first-floor window.
Mohammed Merah, 23, was a French of Algerian descent who claimed to have al-Qaeda training.
The killings have raised questions about social cohesion in France and a relation between the Jewish and Muslim community.
While the negociations were still going on, the Twitter feed exploded. The hashtags #AcausedesMusulmans (#BecauseoftheMuslims) and #Toiaussidistonorigine (#Youtoosaywhereyourefrom) became the major trendings in French towns of Marseille and Lyon (southern part of France), with the twitter users ironically trying to point out "The fact that Mohammed Merah is a Muslim, doesn't mean that the whole French Muslim community is to be blamed".
The head of the French Muslim Council, Mohammed Moussaoui, stated that "These acts are in total contradiction with the foundations of this religion (..) France's Muslims are offended by this claim of belonging to this religion."
- French chief rabbi Gilles Bernheim described the religious overtones of the attacks as assaults on “all the French”, condamning them. Moreover, he urged the politicians to resist any temptation to capitalize on the events in their presidential campaign.
- However, the Toulouse shootings are inevitabily going to trasform the campaign.French president Nicolas Sarkozy already positioned himself as the "Father of the Nation" protecting his country and his people, but also as a rallying president appealing for the unity.
- Marine le Pen, the candidate of the French far-right party, National Front, is less moderate, calling for "war against 'politico-religious fundamentalists", considering that the Toulouse killings showed that France had seriously underestimated the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. The first to criticize the National Front attitude was the centrist candidate, François Bayrou who also said that harsh anti-immigrant statements of Sarkozy and Le Pen contribuated “to a growing climate of intolerance”, which provoked, to some extent, these attacks. He called for the unity, as well as the far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon, who didn't put his campaign on hold out neither. "Whatever our faith, there is no place in this country to wage wars of religion", said the candidate of the Left front.
- "The terrorist wanted to divide us and frighten our national community in the election period. He failed", tweeted Francois Hollande who suspended temporarily his campaign after the Toulouse killings.
- Nevertheless, despite his appeals for greater tolerance and national unity, François Hollande -poll favored candidate -didn't seem to impose himself: the central place was reserved for the president.
- Will the tragic events in Toulouse change the course of the election? If Francois Hollande gets back the attention on taxes and economical problems, and Nicolas Sarkozy lets him do so, probably not.Nevertheless, the current French president might try to benefit from the "Toulouse case" to impose his campaign themes and to direct the campaign towards his expertise field: security and threat to secularism.