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Gun Disguised as TV Camera Ends Crisis

Europe: 28 at Luxembourg day care center are freed after hostage-taker is lured by the promise of an interview.

June 02, 2000|From Times Wire Services

WASSERBILLIG, Luxembourg — Police used a gun disguised as a television camera and the lure of a media interview to shoot a gunman holding 25 children and three adults, ending a 28-hour hostage crisis.

The siege ended early Thursday evening when the gunman, who police said had a history of psychiatric problems, was shot twice in the head at close range and critically wounded by a marksman posing as a TV cameraman.

Emergency services personnel rushed into the day care center in Wasserbillig, on the German border, grabbed the children, who were said to be between 1 and 11 years old, and carried them from the building.

The unfolding drama shocked the world as pictures of distraught parents and neighbors contrasted with the peaceful setting of this small riverside town of 2,500 nestled among sloping vineyards.

In a country where the crime rate among the 429,000 population is so low that government authorities recently considered closing Luxembourg's sole prison, the crisis is likely to prompt a debate over child security.

Residents of this small town said the 39-year-old gunman blamed the day care center for the loss of custody of his two children after he and his wife separated.

The gunman, who is of Tunisian origin and has held Luxembourg citizenship since 1982, walked into the center early Wednesday afternoon armed with a pistol, hand grenades, a knife and a can of gasoline.

The police moved in Thursday, a few hours after the man lifted a child up to a window in sight of the assembled security forces and media, as if to show he meant business.

"We had to get them out seriously fast," said Jos Schummer, an emergency worker who was among the first to race into the building to rescue the children.

"He'd taken a can of petrol and poured it all around the room," firefighter Marc Lewig said.

"It was incredibly dangerous. We were standing by and were ready to go at any second in case he lit it."

With police posing as cameramen and reporters, the man had come out with a child in one hand and a grenade in the other. Interior Minister Michel Wolter said the situation provided police with an opportunity.

"He didn't have a free hand to activate the grenade," he said.

Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said the man, whose identity was not released by police, was taken to a Luxembourg hospital.

None of the hostages was hurt, and relieved parents were applauded and cheered by local residents as they walked away with their children in their arms.

The gunman released 12 of his hostages during the course of the siege but had continued to demand to be flown to Libya, police said. His two children, now teenagers, had attended the day care center until 1995 before they were taken away by social services.

Luxembourg authorities confirmed the use of a gun disguised as a camera, saying the man had been excited about speaking to the media to plead his case.

Disbelief that the hostage drama had taken place in safe and secure Luxembourg was apparent everywhere.

"This is the kind of thing you see in TV shows from America; it doesn't happen in real life," resident Mathys Schwall said.

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