PARIS (Reuters) - “Everyone is shocked. It’s horrible,” said a young man selling honey cakes in Paris’ Marais Jewish quarter which on Tuesday mourned three children and a rabbi killed in Toulouse.
“There are no words.”
The shooting by a lone gunman on Monday revived painful memories of a 1982 grenade and gun attack on the Goldenberg Jewish restaurant in the Marais that killed six people.
The restaurant no longer exists, but a plaque affixed to what is now a men’s fashion store bears the names of those killed in an attack blamed on the Palestinian Abu Nidal group.
“We’d like to forget it, but this reminds us,” said one man, dressed in an Orthodox Jewish coat and hat, emerging from a synagogue where prayers were said for those killed in Toulouse.
“We need to know who did this and why they did this. We’re scared it will happen again. I’ve heard people say they don’t feel safe,” said the 63-year-old, who also asked not to be identified. “It’s immoral.”
President Nicolas Sarkozy has said racism appeared to be behind Monday’s killings, which he linked to the killing of three soldiers of North African origin which came during campaigning for an April-May presidential election.
“Yet again, it’s another attack against us,” said the young man selling cakes and traditional rugelach pastries from a baker in Rue des Rosiers, the street at the heart of the old Jewish quarter. Like others, he declined to give his name.
The killing in Toulouse took place at the Ozar Hatorah school, one of 20 in France with roots in the diaspora of Middle Eastern Jewry.
Jewish schools and synagogues in France had been targeted in a string of attacks in the past decade, many of them arson, but this was different.
“Anti-Semitism exists in France, we have fought it for years,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.
Previous amateurish attacks have often been tied to young French Muslims radicalised by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, notably during at the start of the second Palestinian Intifada in the early 2000s.
But the Toulouse killings appeared to be the work of a lone para-military-style gunman on a motor scooter.
Jewish bookshops, cafes and kosher restaurants still thrive in the Marais, which means swamp in French.
The area is haunted by the bloody attack on lunchtime diners at the Goldenberg restaurant on Rue des Rosiers, even though it has long since ceased to be the epicentre of France’s 600,000-strong Jewish community.
Boutiques and trendy shops have steadily taken over from more traditional Jewish businesses, and tourists flood the area.
Marais residents said police had been patrolling the district throughout Tuesday, on foot and in cars.
Barriers were erected around the neighbourhood’s main synagogue when a ceremony was held on Monday evening for the rabbi and the three children, attended by President Nicolas Sarkozy, politicians and leaders of the Jewish community.
Jews have lived in the area around Rue des Rosiers since the 13th century. More recently, in the late 19th century, Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe came to the dilapidated quarter and helped to develop the garment industry that still exists today.
The warren of streets, which escaped Baron Haussmann’s grand remodelling of central Paris in the 19th century, is known as the “pletzl”, or small square in Yiddish, to contrast with the grandeur of the nearby Place des Vosges.
A school displays a marble plaque recording the names of 260 children who were deported and later killed in Nazi German death camps during World War Two.
The presidential election in France - home to both the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe - has seen immigration and Islam emerge as major campaign themes, some say adding to social and racial rifts.
One young woman, a former student of the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, said that anti-Semitism was never far from the surface in France. “We hear anti-Semitic threats every day, be it in Paris or anywhere else. We are targeted on a daily basis,” said Betty, who refused to give her family name.
Editing by Daniel Flynn and Paul Taylor