Child hostages freed in France


Half a dozen children and their teacher were released safely today after being held hostage for four hours by a teenager armed with two swords at a nursery in the eastern French city of Besancon.

Officials said the 17-year-old youth, whom one described as suffering from a personality disorder, had been arrested and was being questioned by police from France's elite GIGN force.

The masked gendarmes pointed their guns at the school’s windows and doors as they entered. They were in contact by phone with the teenager before the last group of children was released.

"There is no more violence, it all went calmly," Besancon Mayor Jean-Louis Fousseret told iTele television. "This is a person who is in a very bad mental state," he added of the hostage-taker, who he said lived locally.

The children, aged four to six, were wrapped in green wool blankets and carried away by relatives who had waited anxiously outside as police negotiated with the hostage-taker by telephone.

Officials said the young man turned up at the Charles Fourier nursery shortly before 9.00am (8.00am Irish time) brandishing two swords.

He initially took about 20 children hostage, later releasing around 14 of them, and finally letting the last half dozen go free just before 1.00pm.

The youth did not threaten the children and allowed them to go to the toilet throughout the ordeal, education minister Luc Chatel said from the scene.

The youth’s motive was still unclear, although Jean-Marc Magda, administrative head of Mr Fousseret's office, said he was known to suffer from depression and psychological problems.

"He has a personality disorder. Contact has been made with his doctor," Mr Magda said.