One police official said the man was carrying a gun; others said they did not know what weapon he had.
The prefect of the Val-de-Marne region said that the officers from the elite Raid police force were in contact with the man in order to negotiate with him. Pierre Dartout said a parent of one of the children was being held and that homes and buildings around the complex had been evacuated.
The man took the hostages in Vitry-sur-Seine, a commuter town with residents from a variety of socio-economic classes. Another police official said that all the children at the complex, which includes nursery and elementary schools, were safe.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of police rules.
In late June, a man took four employees of a bank hostage in Toulouse. Authorities at the time said he appeared to be mentally ill and ranted disjointedly about religious motives.
Toulouse is the southern French city that was terrorised by a gunman whom police say claimed links to Al Qaeda and killed three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers. The suspected perpetrator, Mohamed Merah, was killed after a long standoff with the Raid police.
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