A French police official says that armed man who had taken four people hostage in a bank in Toulouse has been captured, and the hostages released.
Regional police official Frederic Tamisier says the hostage-taker was lightly injured in the operation to capture him. The hostages were unharmed, he said.
The announcement came soon after a series of shots were heard from the area of the bank.
The man was then taken to hospital, where he was treated for his injuries.
Authorities say the hostage taker had psychiatric problems in the past and claimed he was acting for religious reasons. French media reports said he claimed allegiance to al-Qaeda.
The man, known to police for a record of petty offences and psychological problems, released two female hostages after receiving food and water in the early afternoon, police sources said.
'Linked to March killings'
The man took the hostages, who included the bank manager, in a branch of French bank CIC around mid-morning and fired a shot after an attempted armed robbery apparently went wrong, UNSA police union official Cedric Delage said.
"The man has made clear that he is not acting for money, but for religious reasons. He want us to make that message clear," Prosecutor Michel Valet told reporters.
Police believed four hostages were involved in the latest drama to hit the Toulouse region since a young al Qaeda-inspired gunman shot dead three soldiers, a rabbi and three Jewish children in March.
The hostage-taker asked for the elite RAID commando unit to come to the scene - the same squad which shot dead 23-year-old gunman Mohamed Merah lived and was shot dead by police in March.
Merah was shot dead in March after a long standoff at his home, which was just metres from the site of Wednesday's siege.
"By choosing to carry this out where the Merah affair took place, it shows that this makes sense for him and has a
particular symbolism," said Christophe Caupenne, a former commando at the RAID.
"The Merah affair was a psychological trigger for him so at some point he would act."
Toulouse, a university town which does not have a reputation as a hotbed of religious or militant tension, has been hit in recent weeks with a number of short-lived hostage situations, including a drama last week at a local weather forecasting office, but none resulted in casualties.
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|William A. Cook|