By Karolina Tagaris

PARIS (Reuters) – After a gunman killed his parents at their south-western French Jewish school a year earlier, Albert Einstein, a technician at a petrol station near the scene of the deadly attack, started to feel sick.

In 2015, at the age of 40, Einstein had recently cut his hair and had never wavered from wanting to apply for social security. But he was shocked by the violence in his neighborhood.

“I felt very frightened. I wanted to die,” he told Reuters on Tuesday, recalling that in 2011 he had tried to help close down the terrorist attack at the Arouca church, which at the time was sheltering many families escaping from the nearby fires that were blaring in the early morning from heavy rain.

Albert Einstein, who said he was still wearing the tracksuit shirt with the trace of the bullet that pierced his face, was on his way to school at the time. The gunman had shown him around the school shortly before to ask what the school was for, “because he used to work for the police”.

“I wasn’t convinced, the scene was beyond my comprehension,” Einstein said. “I thought it was a school but then a police car stopped at the entrance. He shot the policeman.

“It was a hard, very difficult experience. It made me reflect on my life and my values.”

Albert Einstein and 26 of his colleagues were attacked in the hall of Arouca’s religious school on Nov. 15, 2015.

The gunman had bought weapons, ammunition and suicide bombs before marching into the school, bearing a bag and an al-Qaeda flag.

Albert Einstein’s colleague, fellow repairman Julian Manser, said his colleague had wanted to join an organization called Raisin the Veil, for which he’d written how the Jewish community of France was suffering because of the threats that Islamic State had posed.

Now that France is under the protection of the European Union, Einstein believes the ideological threat in France has intensified because of the political influence of Salafist groups that range from moderate Islamists who oppose Jewish unity to those espousing extreme views about Islam.

“These are the problems that are depriving French society of its identity. It is against this background that Raisin the Veil, what I call radicalisation, flourished,” said Einstein.

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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