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France gripped by clown terror

AFP · 26 Oct 2014, 14:05

Published: 26 Oct 2014 14:05 GMT+01:00

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A police source said the group of teens were arrested in the parking lot of a high school in the port town of Agde, as several other complaints poured in over "armed clowns" in the region over the weekend.

In the Mediterranean city of Montpellier a man disguised as a clown was arrested after beating up a pedestrian with an iron bar, while three motorists in different towns complained about "scary clowns" threatening them.

The phenomenon of dressing up as an evil clown and terrifying passers-by -- a trend which has also been seen in the United States and Britain -- cropped up in the north of France in early October.

In the northern French town of Bethune, a fake clown last week received a six-month suspended jail term Monday for threatening passers-by while in full circus garb.

Using fake weapons these "clowns" have been "mostly spotted outside schools, but also on public roads, in bushes, in a square.

Their targets are often young children or teenagers, but also adults," a police source in northern France told AFP.

Theories abound as to the origin of the trend in a country where American fear-fest Halloween has yet to take hold.

These include a challenge launched on social networks, a video published on YouTube showing a terrifying clown pranking people -- which has had some 31 million views -- or even a recent episode of popular series American Horror Story featuring Twisty the killer clown.

After a rumour a clown was stalking the eastern town of Mulhouse, five teenagers on Wednesday armed themselves with a baseball bat, a teargas canister, a hammer and a truncheon to mete out vigilante justice to the not-so-funny pranksters.

They were arrested and later released, but the incident prompted the national police to step in to quell the hysteria.

"Since mid-October, a rumour inspired by videos published on the internet, is worrying the population about the presence of threatening and aggressive clowns in France," the national police said in a statement this week.

The statement cautioned that "despite numerous reports made to police, there have been only a few sightings of people dressed as clowns having fun scaring passers-by."

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"Symptomatic of the impact of the internet, this phenomenon can lead to damaging individual acts and disturbances to public order."

Whether brandishing a rubber chicken at a children's party or starring as the evil protagonist in a horror film, clowns have long had both the ability to both entertain and terrify.

Infamous creepy clowns include notorious American serial killer and rapist John Wayne Gacy -- who would dress up as Pogo the clown -- to the fictitious Pennywise in Stephen King's movie "It".

The fear of clowns is known as coulrophobia.

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