French police end bank siege


A man claiming to be a member of al-Qaeda who took four hostages in a bank in the southwestern French city of Toulouse this morning has been arrested, police officials said today.

The man was arrested after police launched an assault in which he was injured.

The man, known to police for a record of petty offences and psychological problems, released two female hostages after receiving food and water in the early afternoon, police sources said.

The man took the hostages, who included the bank manager, 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.

Police sources said a second shot was fired in mid-afternoon."The man has made clear that he is not acting for money, but for religious reasons. He want us to make that message clear," prosecutor Michel Valet told reporters.

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 stand-off at his home, which was just metres from the site of today's siege.

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.