Hostage taker surrenders outside French bank

Hostage taker surrenders outside French bank

A gunman who took six people hostage in a bank in France on Thursday surrendered to elite police after a six-hour operation to free his captives.

The hostage-taker, a 34-year-old with a history of mental illness, emerged slowly from the building wearing a balaclava and with his hands turned palms-up, before officers with their weapons raised moved in and handcuffed him.

All the hostages were unharmed, though in shock, said Denis Jacob of the Alternative police trade union.

Bomb squad officers acted after the man told officers there were explosives in a bag. He had been armed with a handgun, a national police representative said.

The man initially took six people hostage. Five were subsequently released and the sixth taken to safety after the man was arrested, according to Jacob.

Yves Lefebvre, head of another police union, SGP Unite, said the hostage-taker in Le Havre was known to law enforcement authorities and on a security service watch list.

"We know that he has been radicalised and suffers a serious psychiatric illness," Reuters cited him as saying.

Another source, a senior police official, said that during the incident the man spoke in support of the Palestinian cause. He walked out of the bank with what appeared to be a green-coloured flag draped around his shoulders.

Police had cordoned off the area around the bank on Boulevard de Strasbourg, a wide thoroughfare in the centre of Le Havre.

When the fifth hostage was freed, a man in a pink shirt could be seen in Reuters television footage being led away from the bank by a police officer in full protective gear.