BESANCON // A French nursery school hostage drama ended Monday when five children and their teacher were freed after police overpowered their sword-wielding teenage kidnapper, officials said.
The 17-year-old armed with two swords burst into the school in the eastern city of Besancon and initially took 20 children hostage as parents dropped them off for the start of class.
The youth released most of them over the morning but kept five, aged between four and six, as well as their woman teacher for several hours in the one-storey school in the middle of a public housing estate.
Police negotiators spent the morning in contact with the youth by telephone and a police unit specialising in hostage situations surrounded Charles-Fourier school in Planoise, a neighbourhood on the western edge of Besancon.
Elite French police moved inside the building around midday but the hostage drama continued, with worried parents waiting anxiously just outside the police security perimeter.
The youth, whom media reports said was from the area and had a history of depression and psychological problems, at one point told negotiators that he wanted a weapon to kill himself
"The release happened as meals were being served," said Education Minister Luc Chatel, who had rushed to the scene.
Police were able to overpower the hostage-taker easily after he was separated from the children as they prepared to eat, he said.
Besancon mayor Jean-Louis Fousseret said the hostage-taker "went into the establishment armed with two swords and declaring that he wanted something," but did not say what exactly that was.
Lazahre ben Atmane, one of the dozens of people gathered near the police security perimeter, said authorities had phoned him at work to say his son was being held.
But the boy was one of the pupils freed after the initial hostage-taking and was reunited with his father.
Hostage-taking at French nursery schools is extremely rare. But 1993 saw a notorious case in the chic Paris suburb of Neuilly, where President Nicolas Sarkozy was then mayor.
An armed man calling himself "Human Bomb" took a class of 21 children hostage and demanded a ransom of the equivalent of 15 million euros.
Police shot him dead and the children were freed unharmed.