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Saturday, 11 August, 2001, 21:43 GMT 22:43 UK
Manhunt in Paris after bank hold-up
The gunman
The assailant flees with two hostages who later escaped
A manhunt is under way for a man who attempted a bank robbery in Paris, killing three people and wounding several others.

French police said a gunman had taken about 10 people hostage inside the Caisse d'Epargne bank in a shopping centre in Cergy-Pontoise - on the northern outskirts of the city.

Police wait for the robber
Police were alerted to the robbery by clients who found the bank locked
The man, who was reportedly dressed as a woman, then shot his way out of the bank before seizing a nearby car and making his escape.

French police said that he shot dead the bank's manager and a member of his staff and seriously injured another person. News agencies said that between one and five other people also sustained injuries.

The gunman then fled with two hostages.

He shot a motorist as he attempted to steal a getaway car before making his escape. Another motorist and several passers-by were reportedly injured.

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It was not clear whether he ran or drove away, or whether he had managed to steal any money.

Police have now set up roadblocks and are checking vehicles leaving the town.

The news agency AFP quoted investigators as saying that the robber was dressed in women's clothing and was wearing a wig and make-up.

Exchange of fire

Bank customers alerted police after unexpectedly finding its offices closed in the middle of the day and seeing a hooded man inside.

Shocked customers were escorted from the bank by the emergency services following the heist.

Violent crime is becoming a major political issue in France, with President Jacques Chirac advocating a zero tolerance policy similar to that introduced in some American cities.

According to government figures released this February, violent crime in the Paris area rose by 50% in the space of a year.

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The BBC's Valerie Jones reports
"A bank robbery which ended with three people dead"
See also:

02 Feb 01 | Europe
Big jump in crime in France
07 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: France
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