'Al Qaeda' militant takes hostages in Toulouse

A police source said it was impossible to know whether the gunman’s claims were serious

A police source said it was impossible to know whether the gunman’s claims were serious

A gunman claiming to be an al-Qaeda militant has taken four people hostage in a bank in the southwestern French city of Toulouse.

The incident, which follows the shootings of three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi in March by an al-Qaeda affiliate named Mohamed Merah, began at 9am with an attempt to hold up a CIC bank branch in central Toulouse.

Officials stated that when the gunman’s demand for money was rejected, a shot was fired and the hostages were taken, among them the bank branch director. One hostage has now been released from the building.

The purported militant, who is reported to be around 30 years old and known to authorities, has demanded that the elite Raid police unit, which was responsible for killing Merah, come and negotiate with him. No Raid officers have so far been deployed.

A police union source was quoted in the regional newspaper Ouest-France saying that it was impossible to know whether the gunman’s claim about his links with al-Qaeda were “serious or a fantasy”.

Public prosecutor Michel Valet said that “we’re taking measures so we can start a dialogue”, with police officers from the elite GIPN (Groupe d’intervention de la police nationale) brigade currently on the scene.

The area surrounding the bank, which lies just 100 m from where Merah used to live, has been cordoned off, with two nearby schools also having been closed.

Last updated: 2:48pm, June 20 2012