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France fears serial killer on loose

A string of murders involving the same weapon have raised concerns that a serial killer may be on the loose in a Paris suburb, as France recovers from a wave of terror-related shootings in its south.

Four murders have taken place in the Essonne region of the capital since November, the latest that of a 47-year-old woman on Thursday. The same semi-automatic gun was used in all four attacks, prosecutor Marie-Suzanne Le Queau said during a press conference.

Authorities stressed that there's no evidence yet of a link to terrorism in the Essone killings, but Interior Minister Claude Gueant told French radio Europe-1 that he fears a serial killer might be behind them, and that "maximum resources" would be used to find the perpetrator.

French agencies already are on alert after a string of shootings last month in southern France that police say was the work of an Islamist militant who used a motorbike, video-taped the shootings and claimed links to al Qaida. The alleged gunman was shot dead in a stand-off with security forces.

She added that similarities were especially apparent in the last three murders, in which the victims were shot in the head. Gun cartridges were recovered in Thursday's killing, when the shooter fled on a motorbike.

In the Essone killings, Ms Le Queau said all four murders appeared to have been committed at the same time of the day, between 4pm and 6pm.

She added that similarities were especially apparent in the last three cases, in which the victims were all shot in the head. Gun cartridges were recovered in Thursday's killing, when the shooter fled on a motorbike.

The first murder, which took place in November, involved a different method, but the same gun, Ms Le Queau said. She said a suspect in the first attack was already behind bars, but had retracted his confession to the November murder.

Authorities are still trying to establish whether just one person is behind the killings. In addition, questions remain about whether the victims were linked to one another. The prosecutor said the victims in the first two murders "lived in the same building", but made no clear link with the other two.

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