PARIS — A bomb exploded at lunchtime Friday in the crowded cafeteria of a shopping and office complex just outside Paris, injuring 42 people and defying the French government's declaration of a war on terrorism.
Charles Pasqua, minister of the interior and one of the Cabinet officers who had declared only a few months ago that the government of Premier Jacques Chirac would "terrorize the terrorists," rushed to the scene and announced that witnesses had furnished police with a description of a fleeing suspect.
The ministry said later it was questioning a Syrian who fitted the description, but offered no details.
The bombing in the cafeteria of the "Le Casino" supermarket was assumed to be the work of a group of terrorists who have demanded that the French government release three Middle Eastern prisoners convicted or charged with terrorist crimes. The government, though it evidently had considered the possibility of releasing one of the three, announced Thursday its rejection of the demand.
The terrorist group, which calls itself the Committee of Solidarity with Arab and Middle Eastern Prisoners, has claimed responsibility for a bomb that exploded in the post office at the City Hall on Monday and for a series of other bombings at public places in Paris this year. In all, three persons have been killed and more than 100 injured.
Another group calling itself the Partisans of Right and Liberty claimed responsibility for the latest bombing in a telephone call to a Western news agency in Beirut. It warned of more bombings unless France adopted "a just and equitable policy."
Exploded at Busiest Time
Friday's bomb, at a complex called La Defense, had been placed in a box beneath a bench. It exploded at the busiest moment of the day, when the cafeteria was crowded with several hundred people.
The force of the explosion hurled a woman through the glass wall of the cafeteria to the plaza two stories below. She and another person were reportedly the most seriously injured of the victims. Many of the others were cut by flying glass and metal.
They were hospitalized, 18 others received out-patient medical care and 22 more were treated on the spot for shock, cuts and bruises.
Pasqua, the interior minister, said a young man had been seen fleeing from the building.
The bombings have created an ugly mood of frustration in France. Politicians are openly discussing the need for the "physical elimination" by French secret agents of known terrorists.
In a television statement after the bombing at the City Hall, Chirac, who is also the mayor of Paris, described terrorism as "a leprosy of modern times" and said that "a war must be declared with all necessary means."
Then, in a phrase that troubled viewers with memories of World War II, when some French denounced their countrymen to the Vichy government that ruled unoccupied France after its defeat by Germany, Chirac called on the people "to denounce all suspicious behavior to the police."
Pasqua said it was this appeal by Chirac that turned up the description of the fleeing suspect on Friday.
In a series of raids before dawn Thursday, French police, investigating the bombings, arrested and detained a dozen people of Middle Eastern descent. The Interior Ministry said Friday night that the 12, most of whom were of Lebanese or Tunisian origin, would be expelled from France.
The ministry said no charges have been filed against the 12, and gave no reason for the expulsions. French officials had reportedly been considering the release of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, one of the three prisoners whose freedom has been demanded by the bombers. He has served two years of a four-year term for illegal possession of guns, and the French, in principle, would have no legal problem releasing him on parole.
But Abdallah is also charged with complicity in the killing of an American military attache and an Israeli diplomat almost four years ago, and his release would infuriate the U.S. government. Abdallah, in fact, is widely believed to be the leader of the Lebanese Revolutionary Army Faction that has claimed responsibility for the murders.
In any case, the latest bombings have made it even more difficult for the Chirac government to release Abdallah, since the French would have a hard time defending themselves from accusations that they had given in to the terrorists.