PARIS, March 25 (AFP) – The shadowy AZF group that said it would bomb the French rail network if it is not paid a large ransom announced it is “suspending its action” Thursday but warned that it will be back to threaten attacks worse than the March 11 bombings in Madrid.
In a seven-paragraph letter addressed to the French presidency and the interior ministry, the group said there were “as of today no more bombs on the French railway system capable of functioning.”
The group admitted it had underestimated the technical difficulties of its planned campaign, but said that once it had overcome these it would return with a more effective “force of persuasion.”
“So when we next make our demands, pay up without making a fuss … or else France will surpass ingloriously the sad records of Spain,” it said in a reference to the 190 people killed in the Madrid train attacks.
The previously unknown organisation sent a series of letters to the French government from mid-December claiming to have planted 10 bombs on the railways, and demanding a ransom of several million euros to stop them being detonated.
In February the group tipped off police to a device it had hidden on a viaduct near the town of Limoges in central France, and on Wednesday another bomb bearing similarities with the first was discovered on a line southeast of Paris.
Police experts were analysing the second device Thursday to establish whether the chemical inside – nitrate fuel – was from the same batch as the Limoges bomb.
In its letter the group said: “With the experience it has acquired these last weeks and now conscious of its technological, logistical and other weaknesses, AZF suspends its action for the time necessary to remedy these.
“As no ‘force of dissuasion’ is seen as credible unless it is genuine, we have decided that when we reappear our own ‘force of persuasion’ will be based on more effective and tangible material and that no word shall be uttered by AZF that is not based on strict reality,” the group said.
“Understand that we have absolutely no intention of giving up our aim of obtaining the money we need,” the letter read, before ending with the words “without bitterness and till soon.”
The identity and motives of the group remain obscure. Police believe there are at least a man and a woman involved, and have speculated from the professionalism of the first bomb as well as the language of their messages that one of them has a military background.
The initials AZF are significant because it was the name of a chemical factory that blew up in the southern city of Toulouse in September 2001 killing 30 people and injuring more than 1,000 others. The blast, officially described as an accident, created enormous local resentment.
In a previous message the group described itself as “pressure group of a terrorist nature linked to a secularist brotherhood,” and in the last letter it added to the confusion, saying its “main aim was to deliver a decisive blow to the corrupt spirit which dictates most human actions today.
“We believe the means at our disposal permits this and we will carry it through to the end. If not, the Earth will do it itself in a much more brutal fashion.”
Earlier Thursday officials said there had been renewed contact with the group via the personal columns of Liberation newspaper. In February the two sides communicated via messages signed “Suzi” and “The big wolf” leading to a failed ransom drop at an airfield south of Paris.
Following the discovery of the Limoges bomb police and railway workers combed 32,500 kilometres (20,000 miles) of tracks in a vain search of more devices.
Subject: France news