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France arrests teenager seen behind false hostage alert

PARIS (Reuters) - Police have arrested a teenager believed to have been behind a false security alert at the weekend that triggered a major police operation in central Paris, a judicial source said on Monday.

More than 100 police officers, including elite units, rushed to the capital's busy Chatelet shopping district on Saturday after a call that claimed hostages had been taken inside the Saint Leu church.

Seven months before a presidential election, France is on edge following a string of militant attacks from the northern region of Normandy to the southern French Riviera, including the knifing of an elderly Catholic priest at his altar.

"In these tense times, those who come up with these sick jokes ... deserve to be punished severely," Prime Minister Manuel Valls told reporters.


French weekly L'Obs on Sunday said on its website it had made contact with two teenagers believed to be 16- and 17-year-olds, who played the news magazine a tape of what they said was their call to the police.

"The initial idea was to 'swat' a mosque, but after Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray we figured it would work better if we targeted a church," the pair said, referring to the town in Normandy where two would-be jihadists murdered the priest.

The act of "swatting" involves deceiving the security forces into deploying emergency teams by raising a false alarm.

(Reporting by Yves Clarisse and Richard Lough; Editing by Michel Rose and Richard Balmforth)