Armed man seizes hostages in French bank

RENNES, FRANCE (REUTERS) – A man armed with a gun was holding three people hostage in a bank in northern France on Thursday (Aug 6), officials said, and two police union sources said the gunman was believed to have Islamist sympathies.

An elite tactical unit of the French police was on its way to the scene in the port of Le Havre, police said.

A representative of the national police told Reuters the hostage-taker had initially seized six people at the bank, but three had subsequently been released.

The police representative said the hostage-taker was a 34-year-old man with a history of mental health problems.

The man’s weapon was a handgun, police said.

One of the two union sources said the hostage-taker was known to law enforcement authorities and was on a security service watch list.

“We know that he has been radicalised and suffers a serious psychiatric illness,” Yves Lefebvre, head of the SGP Unite police union, told Reuters.

A third source, a senior police official, said the man holding the hostages had made statements in support of the Palestinian cause.

He added that the man had also asked for a motor scooter and access to social networks.

Police have cordoned off the area and urged the public to stay clear of the bank, on Boulevard de Strasbourg, a wide thoroughfare in the centre of Le Havre with a tramline running down the centre.

The hostages were seized in a branch of Bred bank, a mid-sized French lender, French media reported.

The branch is on the ground floor of a six-storey residential building.

Le Havre is a town of around 170,000 people on the English channel, about 200km north-west of Paris.

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