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French armed police capture suspected Islamist who stabbed jail guards

Elite French police using stun grenades captured a prison inmate who on Tuesday stabbed two guards before barricading himself in a room used for family visits, in an attack the government called a terrorist incident.

The assailant launched his attack while his partner was visiting, shouting Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest) as he wounded the two guards, French media reported, citing prison union officials.

"The prisoner and his companion have been detained by RAID officers," Interior Minister Nicolas Castaner said on Twitter.

A Reuters photographer outside the complex heard several explosions coming from inside the prison as the police commandos mounted an operation to end the hours-long standoff.

Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet earlier said she understood the prisoner was on a security agencies watchlist of potential threats because of his suspected Islamist sympathies.

The inmate was serving a 30-year sentence for armed robbery, kidnapping, murder and publicly condoning terrorism in the prison in Conde-sur-Sarthe, in northern France's Normandy region.

"There is no doubt about the terrorist nature of this attack," Belloubet told reporters, adding one of the guards was gravely wounded.

An investigation was under way into how the inmate obtained a knife and whether his wife was involved, the minister said.

The high-security prison, which can hold up to 195 prisoners, was not overcrowded, Belloubet said. Many of France's prisons are congested and have become fertile recruiting grounds for radical Islamists.