TOULON, France — The leader and three associates of an extreme rightist group were identified Monday as the victims of a bomb that apparently exploded prematurely in their car as they drove into an Arab neighborhood here, police said.
Investigators said one of the victims was Claude Noblia, 43, the leader of S.O.S. France, an extreme right-wing group based in Toulon. The others were identified as Yvon Ricard, Raymond Segara and Henri Bahri, who were in Noblia's car at about 1 a.m. when the blast destroyed the car in central Toulon and set a nearby building on fire.
Charred and torn anti-immigrant pamphlets signed "S.O.S. France," with such slogans as "France is us, not them," were found scattered about the wreckage of the car.
Police in the Mediterranean port city, about 440 miles southeast of Paris, said they believe that the nearby former offices of S.O.S. Racisme, a Paris-based anti-racist organization, might have been the target of the planned attack. The organization moved away July 14, officers said.
Noblia ran unsuccessfully in March elections for a regional seat as a candidate of the far-rightist National Front led by Jean-Marie Le Pen.
The National Front won 35 seats in the March national legislative elections on a platform calling for strict controls on immigration, one of the most contentious issues in France, particularly along the Mediterranean coast where there are large communities of North Africans.
S.O.S. France split off from the National Front earlier this year. Commenting on the explosion, National Front spokesman Yanne Piat said the party had "no connection with the regrettable events of this night."
Police said the explosion of about 10 pounds of plastic explosives destroyed the victims' white Alfa Romeo, damaged nearby vehicles, triggered a fire in an adjacent toy store and shattered windows and furniture in two apartments above the store.
"The explosion was so powerful it woke up the entire neighborhood," one resident said. "There were pieces of metal and clothes scattered everywhere."
Police said neighbors reported seeing the car driving through the neighborhood shortly before the explosion. They said the driver appeared to have trouble finding his way because some streets were closed for repairs. The conservative government of Premier Jacques Chirac on Aug. 7 enacted measures tightening immigration controls and making it easier to expel immigrants.
In May, a group called "the Commando of France Against the Magreb Invasion" claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on a bar frequented by North Africans in Toulon, for two attacks in an immigrant neighborhood in Marseilles and an attack on a Muslim butcher in Nice. There were no casualties in these attacks.