Two of Toulouse hostages are freed

Channels Television  
Updated June 20, 2012

A man who seized four people in a bank in the southern French city of Toulouse has freed two hostages, reports say.

Officials say the gunman first demanded money. When he was refused, a shot was fired and hostages taken.

The man, saying he was linked to al-Qaeda, demanded to speak to the elite Raid police unit that shot Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah.

Merah, who claimed al-Qaeda training, killed seven people in Toulouse before he was shot dead by police in March.

There are no reports of injuries in the incident so far. Witnesses at the scene said they heard a second shot being fired during the afternoon, a claim denied by the interior ministry.

‘Religious reasons’

The man went into the branch of the CIC bank at 10:10 local time (08:10 GMT), taking the manager and three other people hostage, French media say.

The area around the bank has been cordoned off and two nearby schools have been closed.

“We’re taking measures so we can start a dialogue,” said public prosecutor Michel Valet, at the scene.

Special police units from the GIPN (Groupe d’intervention de la police nationale) have arrived from Marseille and Bordeaux.

A police union source told the regional newspaper Ouest-France it was not clear whether the man’s claim about al-Qaeda was “serious or a fantasy”.

More than four hours into the siege, police said a woman hostage had been freed in exchange for food and water. A second woman was released some time afterwards.

Negotiations were understood to be continuing towards the release of the remaining two.

Mr Valet told reporters that “the man has made clear that he is not acting for money, but for religious reasons”.

The hostage-taker was believed to be around 30 years old and known to the authorities, Toulouse newspaper La Depeche reported. He was from Castres, to the east of Toulouse, and one source told the paper he was a schizophrenic who had broken off his treatment.

The bank is a few hundred metres from Merah’s flat, in an area adjacent to the barracks where Raid police were based during the March siege.

No officers from Raid – which has its headquarters north of Paris, about 600km (400 miles) from Toulouse – have been deployed to the scene