Hostages Held in Courtroom
NANTES, France (AP) _ A man claiming to be a Palestinian guerrilla burst into a courtroom during a robbery trial today, gave weapons to two of the defendants and took 29 people and the judge hostage, officials said.
Fourteen people later were freed, officials said.
One of the defendants, Georges Courtois, said in a nationally broadcast television interview that the gunmen would kill captives if police intervened.
Original reports said that all four defendants in the trial joined the guerrilla. But police sources said that only two - Courtois, 34, and Patrick Thiolet, 24 - participated. An Interior Ministry spokesman in Paris confirmed that there were three gunmen.
The ministry spokesman, who refused to be named, said a total of 30 people were held hostage, not 29 as reported by police.
The spokesman said 14 people were freed and 16 were still being held inside the courtroom. The released captives were a group of law students, who left the Palace of Justice by a hidden back door, and two journalists, officials said.
Police Chief Robert Broussard, sent from Paris, and Jean Chevance, the local governor, entered the courtroom, sources said without elaborating.
Police sources said the gunmen asked the officials to make a bus available and bring it to the front of the courthouse.
The takeover began at 11 a.m. (5 a.m. EST) when the accomplice, who claims to be a member of a Palestinian movement headed by Abu Nidal, disarmed a police officer and entered the courtroom with a gun and a grenade. Police said he then ordered five policemen to surrender their guns.
Police identified the accomplice as a convicted armed robber, Abdel Karim Khalki. A reporter quoted him as saying: ″I want to give the French state a slap in the face.″
The gunmen requested that French television send a crew into the courtroom, and in a videotape broadcast, Courtois said, ″If we have to kill two, three, four or five people, or explode a grenade, be assured that it will be the police’s fault.″
″The slightest attempt by police to intervene will be immediately met with a response in the seconds that follow,″ he said.
After the television crew left, police sent in food and drinks demanded by the gunmen, who also demanded direct negotiations with authorities.
The local editor-in-chief of FR3 television station who was inside the courtroom earlier said the men were armed with four grenades and six large- calibre arms. Bernard Dussel said they had told the courtroom they would make their demands known ″at the time and hour they wished.″
Police said the gunmen were demanding to be allowed to leave, but the conditions of that demand were unclear.
Police wearing bullet-proof vests ringed the courthouse in this city about 300 miles southwest of Paris, and an elite police commando unit was sent from Paris. A crisis center was set up at the local prefect’s office.
Four warning shots were fired inside the courtroom, but no one was hit, police said.
Police said the hostages included Judge Dominique Bailhache, the jury, and witnesses.
There were reports that Judge Dominique Bailhache had been chained to his chair by one of the armed men, but that could not be confirmed.
The other two defendants were identified as Yannick Brevet, 31, and a woman, Christelle Dislar, 27.
The suspects were on trial for armed robbery, criminal association and possession of stolen goods.
Khalki told reporters he was a member of Abu Nidal’s movement and showed photos of what he claimed to be fighting in Lebanon.
Abu Nidal, who was kicked out of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, leads a group which has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks in Europe and the Middle East against moderate Palestinians, Israelis and others.
Witnesses said that after he ran into the courtroom, Khalki raced toward Bailhache, grabbed him by the throat, held up the grenade and demanded that the five officers surrender their guns.
On the national 1 p.m. (7 a.m. EST) television news, Courtois was seen telling the jurors, ″You have been judging me, now it is our turn to judge you.″
During Wednesday’s opening session of the trial, Courtois had told the court: ″You are finding me guilty once again. But understand that prison for me is finished.″
One law student, who was allowed to leave after telling the gunmen she was ill, told reporters: ″Courtois, who seemed to be the leader, appeared very determined.″
The student, identified only as 21-year-old Nathalie, said she and 14 other students were attending the trial as observers.
She said the gunmen ordered the hostages to ″sit down on the benches and gave us chewing gum.″ She said Courtois told the hostages that Khalki was an Islamic fundamentalist and asked if there were any Jews on the jury. Apparently there were none, she said.
Courtois said on television that he and Thiolet had met Khalki in jail and learned that Khalki was a ″Moslem extremist.″
″He (Khalki) explained his (political) battle to me and told me what he planned to do when he got out,″ Courtois continued. ″Rather than waste my time spending X number of years in prison, I decided to ally myself with his cause.″