With two shots, police end 28-hour ordeal of kindergarten children

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The Independent Online

A school siege came to a sudden and bloody end after 28 hours last night when police marksmen shot and critically injured an armed man and freed 25 children being held hostage in the kindergarten.

A school siege came to a sudden and bloody end after 28 hours last night when police marksmen shot and critically injured an armed man and freed 25 children being held hostage in the kindergarten.

The violent climax to the stand-off came just after 7.15pm when two shots rang out from the grounds of the school in the village of Wasserbillig on the Luxembourg-German border. Then a series of smaller explosions, possibly smoke bombs, were heard and seconds later teams of police swooped on the building and removed the children. Men in boiler suits and balaclavas ushered officers carrying children across a footbridge towards a fleet of vans and ambulances.

Their intervention came after a night and a day of intensive negotiations via mobile phone, which resulted in the release of 21 child hostages but left 25 children held inside the building by the gunman.

The youngsters were immediately reunited with their parents, who had been waiting anxiously at a cultural centre only a few hundred yards from the centre of the emergency. Whether Luxembourg sharpshooters, or marksmen from neighbouring Germany, who were also on stand-by, took the decisive action to end the siege was not immediately clear.

A Luxembourg police spokesman said the gunman had been "neutralised" by a member of a "special unit".

Unofficial sources said the gunman had been persuaded to leave the building to give an interview to RTL, the state television company, thereby giving the sniper a clear line of fire.

A police spokesman said the gunman was seriously wounded and dying after earlier reports said he had been shot dead. "He is dying, not dead. He is in a very bad condition but not dead," the spokesman said.

Earlier in the day the hijacker, a man of Tunisian origin thought to be 39 years old, had demanded a plane to fly him and his children to Libya, setting a deadline of 8am, whichpassed without incident. He also gave a chilling display of the danger he posed, appearing at a window that was decorated with children's drawings, holding first a pistol, then what appeared to be a hand grenade.

As the day of tense and difficult negotiations proceeded, two children were released at 10.15am. The waiting media saw a three-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl being brought by road past the metal barricades and into the cultural centre to be reunited with their parents. About three hours later the procedure was repeated as two more children made the same short journey to freedom.

For those who had not been reunited with their children last night, time dragged. "We are waiting, simply waiting," said Alfonse Cajosé, the 32-year-old uncle of two children held hostage, adding that the parents were "very alarmed" by the apparent lack of resolution.

Like others, Mr Cajosé seemed stunned that this terror should have come to this of all places. "I've never seen anything like this in Luxembourg," he said. Joao Carlos Alves Pereira, 38, whose seven-year-old was being held, said: "When I heard about it I just about went crazy. I just couldn't sleep."

For the Luxembourg police, inexperienced at dealing with such situations, this produced problems - particularly when the authorities revealed that the man, thought to be called Neji Bejoui, had a history of mental problems and had asked to speak to a psychiatrist.

Hearing these details on the radio, the hostage taker became noticeably more agitated and aggressive. From then on police urged parents to keep away from the media.

The gunman was said to live in nearby Manternach and to have held Luxembourg nationality since 1982. One man who claimed to have played football with him described "Neji" as a strong man, keen on body-building but not someone who would be expected to act violently.

Separated from his wife and having lost custody of his children, now aged 15 and nine, to social services, he returned to the kindergarten they once attended. The motive for his action is unclear but one report claimed a teacher had sided against him in custody proceedings or had reported him for treating his children badly.

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