A 26-year-old man who took four people hostage in a bank in the city of Toulouse and claimed to belong to al-Qaeda was a schizophrenic with no real interest in religion or politics, his family said.

The man, variously identified in French media as either Fethi Bouamza or Seti Bouamza, walked into a branch of the CIC bank and demanded money. When he was not taken seriously, he pulled out a gun and took four people hostage, according to police.

He told police negotiators that he belonged to al-Qaeda and asked to speak to someone from Raid, the crack police unit that dealt with the Islamist gunman Mohammed Merah in Toulouse in March.

Merah, 23, killed seven people in three separate attacks before he was shot dead by police following a 32-hour standoff.

The Toulouse hostage-taker acted out of "religious convictions" and was not motivated by money, police reported him as saying.

Special police units from the GIPN (Groupe d'intervention de la police nationale) were deployed and, by the end of the day, all four hostages had been released unharmed.

The GIPN stormed the bank and apprehended the gunman, who was injured in the thigh, but not seriously.

Who is Fethi/Seti Bouamza?

Although the armed hostage-taker claimed he had links to al-Qaeda, his family said has was never an Islamist extremist. His relatives portrayed him as a man with little interest in either religion or politics.

"My Brother is Muslim but he is not a fundamentalist," Le Parisien quoted his sister as saying.

"We have been in clubs together and drank alcohol," she added.

Bouamza reportedly had a difficult childhood and was taken into care by social services.

He also has a history of mental health problems and is schizophrenic, sources disclosed, adding that he recently stopped attending his treatment programme.

His sister also described her brother as being angry and fearful, while his brother-in-law said he did not have the childhood he wanted. "It is a call for help. It is sad for him," he added.