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Hostage situation in France ends; suspect arrested, captives safe

June 20, 2012 |  9:00 am

France-hostages

This post has been updated. See the note below.

PARIS -- A gunman who held four bank employees hostage for nearly seven hours in the southern French city of Toulouse was arrested after police stormed the building Wednesday afternoon.

The man, who had claimed to be linked to Al Qaeda, was injured in the raid, but the two remaining male hostages -- two women were released earlier in the day -- escaped unharmed.

The incident happened not far from the former home of drive-by killer Mohamed Merah, who shot three French paratroopers, a rabbi and three young Jewish children in March before being killed during a siege with police.

Police said the gunman walked into the bank just after 10 a.m. and demanded that staff hand over cash. When they refused, he pulled a gun and shot into the air.

“We have no idea if his claims to be linked to Al Qaeda is serious or fantasy,” a police union spokesman told Reuters.

[Updated June 20, 1:45 p.m.: Several members of the man's family spoke of his psychological problems to journalists during the day.

After the siege ended, the public prosecutor for Toulouse, Michel Valet, said there was evidence the gunman was someone who suffered "important psychological problems and what he did was linked to these problems." Valet said he could not confirm the man's claims he was linked to Al Qaeda.

The man's sister told local journalists: "My brother is a Muslim believer but not an extremist."

Police said he had no links with Merah and had no previous criminal record, but an officer confirmed the man had spent time in a psychiatric hospital at Toulouse.

Bank employees told police he had seemed "fragile" and "not very coherent" when he arrived at the bank demanding money.]

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-- Kim Willsher

Photo: French police outside a bank in Toulouse where a gunman held four hostages in a siege that lasted nearly seven hours. Credit: Guillaume Horcajuelo / European Pressphoto Agency.

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