French Jewish leaders said that while the threat of another attack against the community may have decreased with the violent death of Merah, it still had not disappeared.
“Security at Jewish institutions will have to be heightened for the foreseeable future and we will ask the government to help fund it,” said Richard Prasquier, president of CRIF, the country’s Jewish umbrella group.
Prasquier said he worried other Islamists in the country might try to follow Merah’s path but added authorities had proved themselves capable of dealing with such perils.
Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, called on France to toughen its legislation on anti-Semitism crimes to deter similar events from repeating.
“The greatest tribute that can be made for the victims and their families is to significantly toughen measures against anti-Semitism and other hate crimes,” Kantor wrote. “Authorities need to be given greater powers to act against any form of hate and intolerance.”
The shooting at Ozar Hatorah on Monday morning was the worst single act of violence against the Jewish community in France since 1982, when six people were killed in a grenade attack on a Jewish restaurant in Paris. Rabbi Yonathan Sandler, 30; his two children Aryeh, 6, and Gavriel, 3; and another child, Miriam Monsonego, 8, were shot dead in the attack in Toulouse. Authorities linked the attack to other recent shootings in the area in which three French soldiers died and launched a massive manhunt for the unknown assailant which reached its conclusion on Thursday.
Information about Merah that has come to light over the past 48 hours seem to raise questions over whether authorities should have apprehended him sooner. The 24-year-old of Algerian descent was known to have ties to Islamists and had traveled to Agfahnistan and Pakistan. Nonetheless, it took security forces nine days from the time the first murder was committed on March 11 until they tracked Merah down to his apartment on early Wednesday morning.
But on Thursday Rabbi Avraham Weill, the chief rabbi of Toulouse, had nothing but praise for security forces and the way the government handled the affair.
“Many people will vote for Sarkozy now,” Weill said over the phone from Paris, referring to presidential elections next month. “He did what he had to do. I spoke to him personally and was impressed by how he managed events. He proved his worth.”
Prasquier said that the fact that the country had not witnessed an attack by Islamists on the Jewish community until now, despite having a sizable Muslim community was in itself evidence of the efficiency of French law enforcement.
“They are considered by security forces around the world as being among the most professional and in fact to think France has not had a killing spree like in Spain and the UK and other places is significant,” he said.
Prasquier said despite the shooting he believed Jews were safe in France and responded to Israeli politicians who called on the country’s roughly 600,000 Jews to make aliya citing security concerns.
“I do not accept the idea that Jews are not safe here,” he said. “Just look at the reaction of the government to the attack. Most of the anti-Semites here are not tolerated. Those politicians in Israel who say there is a need to make aliya now simply do not know our country.”