Gunmen Surrender to French Police : Drama Comes to End When Hostages Are Freed at Airport

United Press International

Three heavily armed gunmen who held dozens of people hostage inside a courtroom and then drove to the airport chained to some of their captives surrendered to police Friday, officials said. No injuries were reported.

Police officials said the three gunmen freed the last of 35 original hostages, criminal court Judge Dominique Bailhache, 45, and one of his assistants, Bernard Bureau, and then turned themselves over to police custody.

The end to the 32-hour hostage drama came on the runway of the Chateau-Bougon airport near Nantes, where the gunmen--two Frenchmen who had been on trial for armed robbery and a Moroccan who tried to free them--had hoped to fly away in a government jet.

Police had rejected a demand that the gunmen be allowed to take their hostages with him. The gunmen gave up after intensive negotiations with senior police officials, seated in a mini-van at the end of the runway.

The gunmen--Georges Courtois, 34, Patrick Thiollet, 24, and Abdel Karim Khalki, 30, had each been armed with a .357-magnum pistol and a hand grenade. Courtois spent most of the time handcuffed to the judge.

In another minivan 20 yards away were six members of a heavily armed police SWAT team. Air traffic had been canceled at the airport.

Anti-Terrorist Team

Before the surrender, the plane that the gunmen had hoped would fly them out of France had brought regional police Commissioner Robert Broussard, one of France's top anti-terrorist policemen, and his team to Nantes, 200 miles southeast of Paris.

Broussard negotiated with the gunmen, who on Thursday took 35 hostages in a courtroom at the Nantes courthouse but freed most of them in groups, unharmed.

The airport was ordered evacuated and only police, airport technicians and journalists were allowed to remain, the officials said. Police sharpshooters took up positions on the airport terminal roof.

Driving a Renault minivan given them by police, the gunmen drove themselves and four hostages to the airport from the Nantes courthouse.

The gunmen left the courthouse one by one, handcuffed to their last four hostages, as a police SWAT team and a crowd of reporters looked on. They fired several shots into the air as they left.

Four or five police vehicles trailed behind them, forming a convoy that wound through Nantes streets and eventually arrived at the airport. Upon arrival, they freed two hostages--substitute Judge Philippe Varin and assistant Francois Dior.

The gunmen's departure from the courthouse came minutes after their leader, Courtois, appeared on a balcony and randomly fired over the heads of reporters. Courtois also threatened to kill the last four captives and then himself unless police allowed him and the two other gunmen to go free.

"We are not afraid of death," Courtois told Radio France reporter Joel Bitoun, who had been called into the courthouse. "Let us leave or the worst will happen."

The drama began before noon Thursday when Courtois, Thiollet and two other people were being tried on armed robbery charges. Khalki, a Moroccan, burst into the courtroom, disarmed five police officers and fired a warning shot into the ceiling.

Courtois and Thiollet leaped over the dock and took up the arms given by Khalki, who claimed to be a member of Palestinian extremist Abu Nidal's guerrilla group.

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