NANTES, France — An Arab firing a pistol, waving a grenade and declaring that he "wanted to give France a slap in the face," burst into a courtroom today, gave two defendants guns and took 36 people hostage in a nationally televised bid to free his cohorts.
The trio freed 19 of the hostages later but demanded a bus to take themselves and the 17 remaining hostages away.
Eight hours after the takeover began, 11 law students, 2 journalists and 6 police guards were freed unharmed following negotiations between police and the hostage-takers in Nantes, about 200 miles southwest of Paris.
Negotiations continued for the freedom of the 17 others--11 jurors, the judge and lawyers and court officials. Authorities said a police commissioner entered the courtroom for the talks.
Demanded Bus for Escape
Police said the gunmen threatened to kill members of the court one by one unless police let them go free. They later demanded that a bus be driven to the front of the courthouse so they could load up the remaining hostages and drive away. Police declined to say whether the demand would be met.
The takeover began when a man identified as Abdel Karim Khalki disarmed five court guards at gunpoint and distributed pistols and hand grenades to two of four defendants who were on trial for armed robbery and passing forged checks.
The three men then took up positions around the courtroom, fired four warning shots and threatened bloodshed if police intervened. The French police equivalent of a SWAT team took up positions around the courthouse.
Defendant Georges Courtois, 34, let a TV journalist inside the courtroom briefly to film the scene for the national news programs.
Courtois was shown striding about the courtroom, smoking a cigar and lecturing Judge Dominique Bailhache, a defense lawyer, a prosecutor and the jurors, who all sat in shocked silence.
Recently Out of Prison
The second armed defendant, Patrick Thiollet, held a pistol and a hand grenade and stood menacingly behind the grim-faced judge.
News reports said Khalki was released from prison Nov. 29 after serving two years of a five-year term for armed robbery.
It was not immediately clear whether the other two defendants on trial were participating in the takeover or were hostages themselves.
The cameraman who filmed the scene said Khalki claimed to be a member of the Palestinian terrorist group led by Abu Nidal.
"He told us that he wanted to give the French government a slap in the face and held up photos of the war in Lebanon.