Police officers control the street next to a bank where a man took hostages.
Police officers control the street next to a bank where a man took hostages in the southern French city of Toulouse, Wednesday, June 20, 2012.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Bruno Martin
TOULOUSE, France (AP) — After a six-hour standoff, elite French police commandos captured a gunman Wednesday who took four bank employees hostage in southern France for what he claimed were religious reasons.
Some 150 police were mobilized from the operation, 30 of them from the elite GIPN squad, and all the hostages were released unharmed.
Prosecutor Michel Valet said the kidnapper's weapon, used twice during the six-hour ordeal, fired only rubber bullets.
The incident plunged the city of Toulouse into widespread fear for the second time in recent months. Tensions have been high in the area since March, when a gunman who police said claimed links to al-Qaida killed three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers in France's worst terrorist attacks in years.
Valet said the gunman captured Wednesday had no prior police record. He refused to identify the suspect by name or confirm French media reports that he was 26 years old.
The hostage-taker was hospitalized with two bullet wounds in the left hand and the left thigh, but his life was not in danger, officials said.
French media had reported that the gunman claimed he was acting on behalf of al-Qaida, but the prosecutor dismissed this claim.
"I am not a doctor," Valet told reporters. "But we have objective elements that allow us to think and affirm that we're dealing with someone who suffers from considerable psychological problems and that his act is linked to these problems."
He added that the claim responsibility was "centered on badly defined, badly expressed religious claims and right now it is difficult to know what guided his behavior, which was anything but rational."
The armed kidnapper had entered a CIC bank branch in central Toulouse about 11 a.m., taking the bank director and three other bank employees hostage, police said.
Authorities quickly evacuated the neighborhood, including a private language school next to the bank for 4- and 5-year-olds, then started negotiations with the gunman.
Eventually, he released two female hostages in mid-afternoon.
After the raid was over, French President Francois Hollande praised the "professionalism" and "efficiency" of the police involved.
Elaine Ganley, Thomas Adamson, Greg Keller and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.
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