Hostage situation in France

Several people have been wounded and hostages taken in a shootout between police and two Kalashnikov-wielding ‘robbers’ in a French town close to the Belgian border.

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It is understood a bank manager and his family are being held hostage in Roubaix, a town which is about an hour west of Brussels.

Police sources say the incident is not believed to be linked to the terror attacks in Paris and is instead the result of a botched robbery.

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Armed men carrying AK-47s are said to be holed up in the home of a family they had been preparing to burgle. The incident began at about 7pm local time after a failed heist close to a service station.

The area has been cordoned off by police, and ‘regular gunfire can be heard,’ according to a nearby neighbour.

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The ongoing operation is taking place in a suburban area of the town on the corner of Gustave Delory Avenue and Vaillant Street.

A source told Reuters: ‘An operation is underway after hostages were taken. Gunshots were fired and the neighbourhood has been cordoned off.’

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It comes as the whole of France remains in a state of heightened alert following the November 13 attacks in Paris in which 130 people died.

However, a police source indicated that tonight’s drama was ‘probably not terrorist related’. Another said it was a robbery.

The town’s mayor’s office said the suspect or suspects ‘carried out a robbery’ after which they took hostages. A special police unit has been dispatched, the office said.

Reports suggest the situation began after a number of suspects were stopped at a security checkpoint. According to Reuters, children are among the hostages.

Medical and fire services confirmed that an operation was underway without giving further details.

Roubaix is where the suspected bomb-maker behind the Paris atrocities is originally from.

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Mohamed Khoualed is accused of supplying the suicide vests and detonators used by ISIS militants in the French capital.

The 19-year-old turned himself in to police in the northern city of Lille last Wednesday.

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