Hostage-taking ends at high-security French jail

A prisoner serving time for murder took a staff member hostage at the 'Maison Centrale' (high security prison) in Arles, southern France on Friday, before the episode ended peacefully within hours.

Hostage-taking ends at high-security French jail
Prison officers engage in a 'riot response' exercise at the high-security 'maison centrale' prison in Arles, southern France. A prisoner has taken a guard hostage there. Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP

A prisoner took a member of staff hostage on Friday afternoon at the high security jail at Arles, in the Bouches-de-Rhone department on the Cote-d'Azur in southern France.

The episode concluded peacefully, however, within hours, after negotiations between the prisoner and members of the GIPN (Intervention group of the national police.)

According to initial reports, the prisoner in question had previously made threats to a member of staff, after he had requested a change of cell.

The area around the prison had been locked down by law enforcement, and senior officials, including the local prosecutor, arrived on the scene at around 3pm, French time, according to regional daily La Provence.

According to sources cited by French daily Le Figaro, a prisoner "armed with a fork or camping knife" took two guards captive at around 2pm French time, quickly releasing one of them.

The suspect was already serving time for more than one murder, and would have been eligible for release in the year 2024.

He had initially demanded a helicopter, the presence of members of the French media, and a change of prison, but in the end gave himself up.

The prison at Arles is one of only a handful of 'maisons centrales' – detention centres reserved for especially dangerous or troublesome convicts, serving long sentences.

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French court orders partial release for convicted Corsican nationalist

A French court on Tuesday ordered the partial release of a Corsican nationalist who has served 24 years in jail for the 1998 murder of a top French official.

French court orders partial release for convicted Corsican nationalist

Under the ruling, Pierre Alessandri will be allowed out of jail to work for a landscaping company in the daytime and will be granted a full conditional release in a year if he behaves well.

The relaxation of Alessandri’s conditions of detention came amid tensions between the Mediterranean island’s pro-autonomy leaders and the French state, after a fellow Corsican detained in the same case was killed in a French prison in March.

Alessandri and a third Corsican detainee were transferred from mainland France to a jail in Corsica in April after the murder of Yvan Colonna.

The Paris appeals court granted Alessandri “a probationary partial release” of 12 months from February 13, the prosecutor-general Remy Heitz said.

If he behaves well, he would then be granted “conditional release” for another ten years, he said.

Alessandri’s lawyer Eric Barbolosi hailed the ruling as a “great relief”.

“For the first time in a court of appeals, the magistrates made a decision based on the criteria necessary for a conditional release, not the particular nature of the case,” he said.

Alessandri had served enough time to be eligible for such a release by 2017, and had already petitioned to be freed three times.

But national anti-terror prosecutors objected, and an appeals court barred his release.

The country’s highest court then quashed one of these decisions, ordering the Paris appeals court to re-examine it.

Colonna, a former goat herder, was announced dead on March 21 after an Islamist extremist who accused him of blasphemy strangled and suffocated him in a prison in the southern town of Arles in mainland France.

He was detained in 2003 after four years on the run, and sentenced in 2007, and then again in 2011, to life in jail over the killing in 1998 of the French government prefect of Corsica, Claude Erignac.

The killing was the most shocking of a series of attacks by pro-independence militant group FLNC.

Alessandri and another nationalist, Alain Ferrandi, had already been sentenced to life in jail in 2003 over the murder.

Ferrandi, who was transferred to the same Corsican jail, has also requested to be released on parole, and a decision is due on February 23rd.

Colonna’s murder sparked violent protests in Corsica.

It galvanised the nationalist movement and led President Emmanuel Macron’s government to offer talks about giving greater political autonomy to the territory.