French police arrest hostage-taker
TOULOUSE, June 20 – French police have arrested a man who took hostages in a bank in the southwestern French city of Toulouse today, two police sources said.
The man, who had claimed to be a member of al Qaeda, was arrested after police launched an assault in which he was injured.
Earlier, the man held several people hostage, including the bank manager, police officials said.
The man took the hostages in a branch of French bank CIC around mid-morning and fired a shot after an attempted armed robbery apparently went wrong, UNSA police union official Cedric Delage said.
Two other police sources said there were four hostages in the latest drama to hit the Toulouse region since a young al Qaeda-inspired gunman shot dead three soldiers, a rabbi and three Jewish children in March.
“We don’t know yet exactly what this individual wants, but it seems to be an armed robbery that went wrong,” Delage said.
“You have to ask why somebody who claims to be from al Qaeda would go to a bank when there are better locations to target if you have a grudge against the state.”
Anti-terrorist police brought in from the nearby cities of Bordeaux and Marseille were at the scene and the area was sealed off.
The hostage-taker had asked for the elite RAID commando unit to come to the scene – the same squad which shot dead 23-year-old gunman Mohammed Merah in March after a long standoff at his home, which was just metres from the site of today’s siege.
Police at the scene had not had direct contact with the hostage taker and were waiting for the RAID unit to arrive to begin negotiations.
“The negotiator will try to understand this person’s motives and establish whether this is just a hold-up that went wrong, with the hostage-taking just a last resort, or whether the hostage-taking was prepared well in advance,” former RAID negotiator Laurent Combalbert told i>Tele television.
Officials at the Interior Ministry and at CIC declined to comment.
Toulouse has been hit in recent weeks with a number of short-lived hostage situations, including a drama last week at a local weather forecasting office, but none resulted in casualties.
Britain and Spain have been hit by al Qaeda attacks over the past decade, following the US-led NATO intervention in Afghanistan, but France has not seen a major terror attack on its soil since the mid-1990s.
At that time the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) carried out a spate of attacks, including the bombing of a commuter train in 1995 which killed eight people and injured 150.
The rise of al Qaeda, based in Afghanistan, has posed a new challenge to French security services more used to watching Algerian-related militants. France raised its terror alert in late 2010 after al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden singled the country out as one of the worst offenders against Islam.
There have been a number of kidnappings of French citizens abroad, and officials say several plots to launch attacks on French soil have been foiled by intelligence services. – Reuters