Bank siege ends in shoot-out as Milan hostage-taker frees captives

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A 24-hour hostage crisis in a Milan bank ended in an abortive shoot-out yesterday, as the lone bandit who had held and released four bank employees turned his sawn-off shotgun on the police. Two officers were injured, neither of them seriously, before he was disarmed.

It was a bizarre end to a hold-up that veered between the nerve-racking and the tragicomic as negotiations between the assailant, Domenico Gargano, and law enforcement officials sitting outside a suburban branch of the Banca Popolare di Milano stretched on through the night and into the late afternoon.

The first big development came in the early hours, as the manager of the bank, Irma Morello, was released in exchange for four billion lire in cash - around pounds 1.5m. It then became apparent that Gargano, a 35-year- old Sicilian with a long criminal record in recycling stolen goods, had no escape plan. He asked for a helicopter from which he could drop the banknotes over the city.

Ms Morello said Gargano had shown no signs of committing serious harm. She added that he had decided to stage the hold-up after being turned down for a pounds 15,000 loan by her staff.

By mid-morning another bank employee was released (the first had been released on Monday). In mid-afternoon Gargano threw a wad of banknotes out of a first-floor window; two hours later he released his remaining hostage and showed every sign of giving up quietly. But then he made his one flailing gesture of violence, scuppering his chances of lenient treatment by the law.