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Gunman takes hostages at Toulouse bank

TOULOUSE/PARIS, France--A gunman took four people hostage Wednesday in a bank in the southern French city of Toulouse and fired a shot, police said. French television reported that he claimed allegiance to the al-Qaida terrorist group.

Tensions have been high in Toulouse since March, when a gunman who police said claimed links to al-Qaida killed three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers in the area. Those were France's worst terrorist attacks in years, and led to a crackdown on suspected Islamic radicals around France.

A man with a firearm entered a CIC bank branch in central Toulouse at about 11 a.m. (0900GMT) and took the bank director and three other people hostage, two police officials said. The officials said a single shot was fired but no injuries have been reported so far.

The officials could not confirm the report on France's BFM television that the hostage-taker claimed ties to al-Qaida. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The neighborhood around the bank is cordoned off, and neighboring buildings were evacuated. Officers from a specialized police unit, the GIPN, arrived at the scene.

The bank is in the same neighborhood where Mohamed Merah, the suspected gunman in the March attacks, was shot and killed by police. It is near the police station where authorities were overseeing the operation to surround and negotiate with Merah.

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Elite police officers from the GIPN brigade arrive at a bank after a gunman took four people hostage in the southern French city of Toulouse and fired a shot, police said, Wednesday, June 20. French television reported that he claimed allegiance to the al-Qaida terrorist group.

(AP)

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