updated 4/12/2005 3:15:17 PM ET 2005-04-12T19:15:17

A man wielding two knives pulled four girls off a public bus in northwest Germany on Tuesday and held them hostage in a cellar for several hours before setting them free unharmed, authorities said.

The four girls, the oldest one aged 16, were taken hostage at about 1 p.m. and held in the cellar of a nearby home for about five hours, police spokesman Joerg Blaszyk said. The girls were released after a tense standoff at the house between the suspect and police commandos, who had sealed off the area.

Officers overpowered the man and took him into custody, police spokesman Manfred Radeke said.

Police believe the man took four children captive after commandeering the bus, which was filled with children on their way home from school in Ennepetal, said Ulrich Rungwerth of the North Rhine-Westphalia state Interior Ministry.

The hostage-taking rattled the small-town calm in an area of upscale single-family homes in the town, located between the cities of Duesseldorf and Dortmund. Neighbors said the man lived in the area.

Renate Schulte said her 16-year-old son, Marvin, who escaped after the man forced the bus driver to stop, told her that the man read a statement in the bus saying his children were in Iran and he wanted to be allowed to bring them to Germany.

The man then herded some of the children into the back of the bus and tied nine or 10 of them together by their belt buckles with a cord.

The man told the children to stay calm and said he wanted to talk to the German government, Marvin Schulte said.

"He didn't seem aggressive," the boy said. "He said we should stay quiet and he didn't want to harm us."

The man, described by witnesses as in his 40s, hustled the group of captives off the bus, but apparently let several go.

He directed the others toward a house where a woman was returning home and forced her to give him the front-door key, Marvin Schulte said.

The man pushed the woman aside, shoved the children into the house and locked the door.

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