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Hostage-taker at French school used ‘fake firearm’

Police officers surround school complex where an armed man took hostages Tuesday July 10 2012 Vitry sur Seine south Paris.

Police officers surround a school complex where an armed man took hostages Tuesday, July 10, 2012 in Vitry sur Seine, south of Paris. Children were initially among the hostages, but the man appears to now be holding one adult. One police official said the man was carrying a gun; others said they did not know what weapon he had. The police official said officers from the elite Raid force were on site to negotiate with the man. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

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PARIS (AP) — An armed man who took hostages Tuesday morning at a school complex just south of Paris used a “fake firearm,” according to a top official.

All hostages — who included children — were released unhurt and the suspect is now in police custody.

Most hostages were freed fairly quickly, police said, though one parent was held for several hours.

The drama began as parents dropped their children off at the complex, which was being used as a summer camp.

Patrick Dallennes, a top official in the Val-de-Marne region, said: “It wasn’t a firearm he used but a fake one with gas cartridges ... without the capacity to kill.”

He added: “It’s made to scare... but it’s not very dangerous. It was a replica and at first it was hard to tell that it was fake.”

A police official close to the inquiry, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing police policy, confirmed that the gun was a “self-defense weapon that cannot kill.”

The official said police believed that the 31-year-old suspect who lived near the school carried out the act as a sort of “suicide attempt,” hoping police would shoot him dead in a stand-off.

Police earlier said that the alleged hostage-taker was incoherent in his talks with the elite Raid police force, but the official said that the suspect was later examined by a doctor while in custody, and his psychological state was deemed stable enough for him to be questioned.

The drama began early in the day as parents dropped their children off at the complex, which includes nursery and elementary schools, in the town of Vitry-sur-Seine, a commuter town with residents from a variety of socio-economic classes. French schools are closed for the summer, but still run activities.

Shortly after releasing the last hostage, the man walked out, said Pierre Dartout, the prefect of the Val-de-Marne region. Teams from the Raid police force had been negotiating with him and took him into custody unhurt.

Little was known about the hostage-taker, but a judicial official said he had no police record. The official also spoke on condition of anonymity, citing policy.

In late June, a man took four employees of a bank hostage in Toulouse. Authorities at the time said he appeared to be mentally ill and ranted disjointedly about religious motives.

Toulouse is the southern French city that was terrorized by a gunman in March whom police say claimed links to al-Qaida and killed three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers. The suspected perpetrator, Mohamed Merah, was killed after a long standoff with the Raid police.

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