Hostage-taker at French school in police custody

An official says a man who took hostages at a school complex just south of Paris used a "fake firearm."

Patrick Dallennes, a top official in the Val de Marne region, says: "It wasn't a firearm he used but a fake one with gas cartridges ... without the capacity to kill."

"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," he said.

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.

Most hostages, who included children, were freed fairly quickly, police said, though one parent was held for several hours. All were unhurt. Police officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing agency rules.

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

    One police official said the man was carrying a gun; others said they did not know what weapon he had.

    Little was known about the hostage-taker, but a judicial official said he was in his 30s, lives in Vitry and 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 whom police say claimed links to Al Qaeda 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.