A man claiming to have links to al-Qaida took four people hostage in a bank in Toulouse on Wednesday morning, only months after a member of the terror group killed seven people in the southern French city, among them three Jewish children.

Wednesday’s incident ended after seven hours with police arresting the man and freeing the hostages, which included a bank manager.

The incident began at 10 a.m. at the CIC bank on Camille Pujol Avenue in the city center – not far from the apartment of Mohamed Merah, the al-Qaida terrorist who killed three soldiers, a rabbi, his two children and the daughter of their Jewish school’s director earlier this year before he was shot dead.

In the latest incident, the 26-year-old man initially demanded that the elite RAID police unit be present, and RAID officers were sent to Toulouse from Marseille and Bordeaux. The GIPN national police evacuated a school nearby and stopped the traffic in La Cote Pavee area.

“We don’t know if his al-Qaida claim is serious or a fantasy,” a police source said at midday. “It seems that it was a hold-up that failed.”

The man eventually released two of his hostages, one after the other, in exchange for water and food, but refused to talk with his sister and a person close to him, added the police.

The crisis ended when the man tried to go out of the bank armed and with a hostage. A policeman shot and wounded him, and he went back into the bank and tried to set it on fire before he was finally arrested.

Before it ended, a police source explained that the man had “psychological difficulties and has been before hospitalized in the psychiatric hospital of Toulouse.”

Toulouse Attorney-General Michel Valet conveyed to the press a “message” from the perpetrator, insisting that “he doesn’t act at all for money, [since] his motivations are religious.”

On March 22, Merah was killed in an exchange of fire with RAID policemen after a 32-hour siege. His Algerian father announced last week he would sue France for the “murder” of his son.

On Wednesday morning, police started to clear out Merah’s apartment, which one of the neighbors said had become a “tourist site” in recent months.

At France 2 TV, Franck Heriot, author of a book on the Merah affair, reported that al- Qaida had offered the terrorist an explosive belt during one of his trips to Pakistan, but he preferred to continue his armed training, since he was planning more attacks.

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