PARIS — A rash of bombings in crowded and well-known places continued to terrorize the city of Paris on Wednesday, the latest blast wounding nine people in the modern shopping center built on the site of the old Les Halles food market.
As fears mounted, so did speculation that the bombs were being placed by terrorists from Mideast political groups trying to bend the will of the French government. The authoritative newspaper Le Monde reported that police and intelligence agents were convinced that the terrorists were trying to put pressure on the government as it holds secret negotiations for the release of four French hostages kidnaped last year in Lebanon.
Mayor Jacques Chirac of Paris, the former premier who is leading his right-wing opposition party in the current campaign for the March 16 parliamentary elections, issued an angry statement insisting that "Paris has become a privileged target of terrorism." Sen. Charles Pasqua, one of Chirac's political colleagues, blamed "the ineffectiveness of the Ministry of Interior and the impotence of the (Socialist) government" for allowing the bombings.
More Police Patrols
Interior Minister Pierre Joxe, however, issued a statement pledging his "implacable will to fight the terrorism" and ordered increased police patrolling and surveillance.
There seemed little doubt that the bombings were aimed at sowing fear among the city's population. None of the targets--an elegant shopping gallery on the Champs-Elysees, the Eiffel Tower, an enormous bookstore in the Latin Quarter and now the Les Halles shopping complex--are linked to any political faction or cause. This was true as well of the targets of two similar bombings Dec. 7, the huge Galleries Lafayette and Au Printemps department stores on the Boulevard Haussmann.
Police defused the bomb at the Eiffel Tower early Tuesday before it could hurt anyone, but the bombs that exploded at the three other sites this week injured a total of 20 persons. The department store bombings injured 39.
The latest bomb exploded at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday in the busy FNAC store, which occupies two levels at the Forum des Halles shopping complex. Police sealed off the area and evacuated thousands of shoppers from the complex.
A letter claiming responsibility for the Champs-Elysees bombing Monday night reached Agence France Presse, the French news service, on Tuesday and seemed to lend support to the theory that the bombers were linked to the kidnapers of the French hostages in the Middle East.
In the letter, an organization calling itself the Committee of Solidarity With Arab and Middle Eastern Political Prisoners boasted of bombing the Champs-Elysees shopping gallery and demanded the release of two convicted terrorists and a prisoner awaiting trial on terrorist charges.
One of the demands--the release of Anis Naccache, convicted of killing two people while leading a group attempting the assassination of former Iranian Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar in Paris in 1980--was almost the same as that reportedly made to the French government by the kidnapers of French diplomats Marcel Carton and Marcel Fontaine, French journalist Jean-Paul Kauffmann and French researcher Michel Seurat.
Le Monde reported that French intelligence agents believe that the letter was genuine.
The French government has said it has no intention of releasing the prisoners convicted of terrorism in France.