French police end sword-wielding teen hostage drama

13th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

French police on Monday freed five nursery school pupils and their teacher taken hostage by a suicidal sword-wielding teenager, official said.

The 17-year-old armed with two swords burst into the kindergarten in the eastern city of Besancon and initially took 20 children hostage as parents dropped them off for the start of class.

He released most of them over the course of the morning but kept five, aged between four and six, as well as their woman teacher for several hours in the one-storey school in a public housing estate.

Police negotiators spent the morning in contact with the youth by telephone and a police unit specialising in hostage situations surrounded Charles-Fourier school in Planoise, a neighbourhood on the western edge of Besancon.

Elite police moved inside the building around midday but the hostage drama continued, with worried parents waiting anxiously outside the police security perimeter.

"The release happened as meals were being served," said Education Minister Luc Chatel, who had rushed to the scene. Police were able to overpower the youth after he was separated from the children as they prepared to eat, he said.

"He is a clearly depressive individual who never had any other demand but to put an end to his own life," Chatel said, adding that the hostage-taker had repeatedly told the captive teacher that he wanted to commit suicide.

But Chatel said the teenager, a local who had himself gone to school in the same area, was "never really threatening, according to the teacher."

Jacques Grosperrin, a member of parliament for the region, said the youth had himself called the police and said he wanted to end the situation and that when police moved in they overpowered him with a stun gun.

The children and their families were being given psychological counselling to ensure that "this incident is no more than a bad memory," said Chatel, who paid tribute to the teacher's courage.

Besancon mayor Jean-Louis Fousseret said the hostage-taker "went into the establishment armed with two swords and declaring that he wanted something," but did not state what exactly that was.

Lazahre ben Atmane, one of the dozens of people gathered near the police security perimeter, said authorities had phoned him at work to say his son was being held.

But the boy was one of the pupils freed after the initial hostage-taking and was reunited with his father.

Hostage-taking at French nursery schools is extremely rare. But 1993 saw a notorious case in the chic Paris suburb of Neuilly, where President Nicolas Sarkozy was then mayor.

An armed man calling himself "Human Bomb" took a class of 21 children hostage and demanded a ransom of the equivalent of 15 million euros.

Police shot him dead and the children were freed unharmed.

© 2010 AFP

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