A gunman claiming to be linked to al Qaida has taken hostages in a bank in the French city of Toulouse and fired a shot
Toulouse was the site of a series of murders, including four at a Jewish school, in March by Islamic extremist Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old who also claimed allegiance to al Qaida
Police said no injuries had been reported so far. It was unclear how many hostages were held
Officers have cordoned off the area around the CIC bank
Pictures from the scene are filtering through Twitter. We'll share them with you here. Obviously all reports and images are hard to verify at this early stage...
It has been reported by French television that four hostages are inside the bank — the branch director and three others — and that the hostage-taker wanted the elite RAID police force to come and negotiate with him.
It was the RAID police force which led a 32-hour standoff with Frenchman Mohamed Merah, whom police say was behind the March shootings, in his Toulouse apartment.
At the end of the stand off, Merah was shot in the head in a gunfight.
Merah was described by French authorities as an Islamic radical who had trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Calls to the CIC bank branch in Toulouse have been left unanswered.
Earlier this year, Merah was alleged to have killed three paratroopers, a rabbi and three Jewish schoolchildren, in attacks that put French authorities on edge.
A lawyer for Merah's Algerian father told a French television station she had evidence Merah had claimed his innocence to police over the seven murders.
Police said Merah, who was born in France and grew up in Toulouse, filmed his killing spree.
Police officials have said the gunman at CIC bank in Toulouse entered the premises at 9am GMT.
They said the bank director and three others have been taken hostage by the gunman.
The bank is in the same neighborhood where Mohamed Merah, the suspected gunman in the March attacks, was shot and killed by police.
Officials could not confirm the report on France's BFM television that the hostage-taker claimed ties to al Qaida. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Officers from a specialized police unit, the GIPN, have arrived at the scene.
The identity of the gunman is not yet clear.
The Paris headquarters of cooperative bank CIC is in contact with Toulouse police, spokesman for CIC, Bruno Brouchiquan, has said.
Brouchiquan would not comment further.
The bank describes itself as the second-largest retail bank in France and the leading bank insurance group, with thousands of branches in France and around the world.
Among those evacuated from a private language school next to the bank are four-year-olds and five-year-olds.
Valerie Ruckly-Gravier, who heads the Happy Momes school, or Happy Kids, said police advised that the security parameters in place could last throughout the day.
"I had to call the parents ... The police accompanied the group to the parents at the end of the street," Ruckly-Gravier said by telephone.
The mother of a child evacuated from a nearby school said on RTL radio that she had received a text message this morning saying the CIC bank was being robbed.
The killings in March sparked the country's biggest manhunt since the 1990s, culminating in a two-day siege which ended when Merah was shot dead by police.
The attacks were France's worst terrorist attacks in years, and led to a crackdown on suspected Islamic radicals around the country.
French intelligence officials said at the time that they found no operational ties between Merah and al Qaida, despite his claim.
His brother is in custody after being handed preliminary charges of complicity to plotting the killings at a Jewish school in Toulouse and of paratroopers in Toulouse and nearby Montauban.
Today, officials could not confirm the report on France's BFM television that the hostage-taker at the CIC bank claimed ties to al Qaida.
French police say the gunman has freed one of the four hostages he is holding.
A police official says a woman has been released and that negotiations are under way with the hostage-taker.
Of the shootings earlier in the year, lawyer Zahia Mokhtari, for suspect Merah's Algerian father, has told BFM television that she had two identical videos of Merah. She said: "In these videos, he says, 'I am innocent. Why are you killing me? I didn't do anything.'"
Ms Mokhtari would not detail how she got the videos, saying she would reveal more on their origin once she files a lawsuit in French courts against the elite police force, RAID, that killed Merah.