Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Man claiming al Qaeda link takes hostages in France

Elite police officers from the GIPN brigade arrive at a bank after a gunman took four people hostage in a bank in the southern French city of Toulouse and fired a shot, police said, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. French television reported that he claimed allegiance to the al-Qaida terrorist group. (AP Photo)
TOULOUSE, France (Reuters) - A man claiming to be a member of al Qaeda was holding several people hostage in a bank in the southwestern French city of Toulouse on Wednesday, including the bank manager, police officials said on Wednesday.

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 meters from the site of Wednesday'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.