Bomb found on French rail

24th March 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 24 (AFP) - French bomb disposal experts on Wednesday neutralised a bomb containing several detonators found on a rail line linking Paris to the Swiss city of Basel, French authorities said.

PARIS, March 24 (AFP) - French bomb disposal experts on Wednesday neutralised a bomb containing several detonators found on a rail line linking Paris to the Swiss city of Basel, French authorities said.

The object "strongly resembled" a previous bomb planted by a shadowy group calling itself AZF which has threatened to blow up parts of France's rail network unless it is paid millions of euros, a police official said on condition of anonymity.

The interior ministry issued a statement saying an employee with the state rail company SNCF found the bomb 200 kilometres (120 miles) southeast of Paris, in the town of Montieramey, near Troyes.

It added that a bomb squad had neutralised the device, which was found to contain nitrate fuel in a plastic container, seven detonators and a timing device. "One wire was not connected," it said.

An emergency meeting of police, intelligence and other security officials was taking place at the ministry.

The discovery came the same day President Jacques Chirac and other foreign leaders were in Madrid to attend a memorial mass for the 190 people killed in the March 11 train bombings in the Spanish capital which have been attributed to Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda.

French authorities have been on high alert for any plots targeting trains or railways since AZF first surfaced in February with its threat and a blackmail demand for a payment of EUR 4 million and USD 1 million.

To show the seriousness of its claims, AZF tipped off French police last month to the location of the previous bomb, considered by police to be "sophisticated, worthy of an explosives expert."

After an exchange of messages via letters and newspaper classified pages, and an unsuccessful attempt to drop off the money, AZF apparently disappeared - but not before increasing its extortion demand and warning it would strike railway targets as well as at "three symbolic sites outside the railways" if it were not paid.

Although the bomb found Wednesday appeared similar to the earlier device, which also contained nitrate fuel, the interior ministry's statement said the circumstances of its discovery "did not correspond to what was in the letters signed by AZF." It was not immediately clear what the discrepancies were.

Officials have refused to say whether they remain in contact with the group, whose initials are believed to come from the AZF factory in the southern city of Toulouse that was destroyed in an explosion in September 2001, killing 30 people and injuring more than 1,000 others. The blast was officially described as an accident but caused enormous local anger.

Publicly, at least, there are few clues as to the identity of the group.

A careful analysis of the previous bomb and of the language used in the letters has led some investigators to suspect that former military personnel may be involved, though terrorist groups and religious sects have not been ruled out.

France has 32,000 kilometres (20,000 miles) of railway track, along parts of which high-speed trains race at more than 200 kilometres an hour.

© AFP

                                                              Subject: France news

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