France bank incident: Hostages held in Toulouse8:19 am - 06/20/2012
Four people have been taken hostage in a bank in the southern French city of Toulouse by a man claiming to be linked to al-Qaeda, police say.
Officials say the gunman first demanded money. When he was refused, a shot was fired and hostages taken.
The man demanded to speak to the elite Raid police unit that shot Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah.
Merah, who claimed al-Qaeda training, killed seven people in Toulouse before he was shot dead by police in March.
There are no reports of injuries in the incident so far.
The area around the bank has been cordoned off and two nearby schools have been closed.
"We're taking measures so we can start a dialogue," said public prosecutor Michel Valet, at the scene.
Special police units from the GIPN (Groupe d'intervention de la police nationale) have arrived from Marseille and Bordeaux.
A police union source told the regional newspaper Ouest-France it was not clear whether the man's claim about al-Qaeda was "serious or a fantasy".
The BBC's Christian Fraser, in Paris, says the bank is 100 metres (330ft) from Merah's flat, in an area adjacent to the barracks where Raid police were based during the siege of Merah's flat.
No officers from Raid - which has its headquarters north of Paris, about 600km (400 miles) from Toulouse - have been deployed to the scene.
Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, killed seven people in three separate attacks. His victims included three children and a teacher at a Jewish school, and three soldiers.
Merah filmed his attacks and sent the footage to police.
He was shot dead by a police sniper on 22 March after commandos stormed his flat.
Merah was suspected to have had an accomplice within the Muslim community, our correspondent says.
In the wake of the shootings, the French authorities set up an investigation into whether Merah had accomplices and into possible Islamist indoctrination practices in prisons.
They have shown zero tolerance to anyone known to have used Islamist internet sites or to have had links to a fringe al-Qaeda group to which Merah is said to have belonged, our correspondent says.
On 7 June, a man armed with a shotgun took hostage a security guard at the French weather service, Meteo France. The hostage-taker fired several shots and was seriously injured when police returned fire.
His hostage was uninjured.