French rail bomb alert causes massive delays
PARIS, March 18 (AFP) - French rail traffic was severely disrupted Thursday after police received a threatening phone call, but an oxygen bottle found on the tracks north of Paris turned out to be empty, police said.
“AZF, don’t touch”, read a message written on the gas container, referring to the shadowy group that in recent weeks has threatened to set off explosive devices on the rails unless Paris paid it more than USD 5 million.
Police said they had received an anonymous call from a phone booth at about 2:20 pm (1320 GMT), telling them to “look between the rails” in the area near Villiers and Garges-les-Gonesse, two towns northeast of the capital.
Police immediately evacuated the station in Garges-les-Gonesse, and both high-speed and suburban rail traffic was cut off from the Gare du Nord in Paris for nearly three hours, regional officials said.
But the suspension in service caused massive delays throughout the evening rush hour on all lines running north of the capital.
Bomb defusal experts rushed to the scene and uncovered the empty oxygen bottle about 500 meters (yards) from the Garges-les-Gonesse station.
Several bomb alerts have occurred in the area over the past week since the devastating train bombings in Madrid that left 201 people dead.
AZF issued a new threat last weekend, saying it would strike targets along France’s extensive railways, as well as at “three symbolic sites outside the railways”, if it were not paid, sources close to the investigation said.AZF has “increased its ransom amount” in its new demands, the sources told AFP, declining to give a figure.
The earlier demand – USD 4 million and EUR 1 million – was relatively small, drawing suspicion that AZF comprised only a few members.
The blackmail has both fascinated and terrified France, after revelations earlier this month that the government had been communicating with AZF through letters and personal advertisements posted in national newspapers.
To show the seriousness of its claims, AZF tipped off French police last month to the location of a bomb, considered by police to be “sophisticated, worthy of an explosives expert.”
Subject: France news