Paris: A wave of panic sparked by evil clowns stalking French towns has spread to the south of France where police arrested 14 teenagers dressed as the pranksters, carrying pistols, knives and baseball bats.
A police source said the group of teens were arrested in the parking lot of a highschool in the port town of Agde, as several other complaints poured in over "armed clowns" in the region over the weekend.
In the Mediterranean city of Montpellier a man disguised as a clown was arrested after beating up a pedestrian with an iron bar, while three motorists in different towns complained about "scary clowns" threatening them.
The phenomenon of dressing up as an evil clown and terrifying passers-by -- a trend which has also been seen in the United States and Britain -- cropped up in the north of France in early October.
In the northern French town of Bethune, a fake clown last week received a six-month suspended jail term Monday for threatening passers-by while in full circus garb.
Using fake weapons these "clowns" have been "mostly spotted outside schools, but also on public roads, in bushes, in a square. Their targets are often young children or teenagers, but also adults," a police source in northern France told AFP.
Theories abound as to the origin of the trend in a country where American fear-fest Halloween has yet to take hold.
These include a challenge launched on social networks, a video published on YouTube showing a terrifying clown pranking people -- which has had some 31 million views -- or even a recent episode of popular series American Horror Story featuring Twisty the killer clown.
After a rumour a clown was stalking the eastern town of Mulhouse, five teenagers on Wednesday armed themselves with a baseball bat, a teargas canister, a hammer and a truncheon to mete out vigilante justice to the not-so-funny pranksters.
They were arrested and later released, but the incident prompted the national police to step in to quell the hysteria.
"Since mid-October, a rumour inspired by videos published on the internet, is worrying the population about the presence of threatening and aggressive clowns in France," the national police said in a statement this week.