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2 Dozen Injured by Bomb Blast in Paris Subway

October 18, 1995|SCOTT KRAFT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — A bomb exploded in a subway car as it left the Orsay Museum station in the heart of Paris on Tuesday morning, injuring more than two dozen commuters and marking the eighth in a series of terrorist attacks apparently staged by Algerian Islamic militants.

The device, a steel gas canister filled with explosive powder and nuts and bolts, was similar to other bombs in Paris in the past three months, police said. Planted beneath a seat in the subway car, it exploded a few minutes after 7 a.m. One of the five seriously wounded passengers lost a foot; another passenger's leg was so badly injured that it was amputated by emergency workers in the train tunnel.

No suspects were in custody by late Tuesday.

The terrorist attacks in France have increased in frequency in recent weeks, though none so far has been as deadly as the July 25 subway attack that killed seven and injured 80. The Armed Islamic Group, or GIA, which has carried out dozens of attacks on foreigners in Algeria, has claimed responsibility for the French bombings. The group says the attacks are designed to pressure the French government to end its annual $1.2 billion in aid to the military-backed government in Algeria.

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Two weeks ago, a communique from the GIA vowed to step up the campaign, and it made new threats in a newsletter over the weekend.

"We continue, with dignity and with all our strength, the jihad and our military actions, this time at the heart of France and its big cities," the communique said. "We declare in front of God that nothing will stop us."

Tuesday's bombing came just days after President Jacques Chirac angered Algerian rebels by announcing that he would meet Algerian President Liamine Zeroual next week in New York, where both will be attending ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.

Even the Islamic Salvation Front, or FIS, a more moderate guerrilla group operating in Algeria, called the meeting "flagrant interference" by France and proof that French officials were "supporting the junta" in Algeria. The Algerian military seized power more than three years ago, throwing out parliamentary elections that the FIS was on the verge of winning. And violence there has increased as the Nov. 16 Algerian presidential election approaches.

French officials, though frustrated and embarrassed by their inability to halt the wave of attacks, vowed Tuesday not to bow to terrorists.

"France intends to continue to talk with Algeria," Prime Minister Alain Juppe told the National Assembly Tuesday afternoon. "No attack, no matter how cowardly or blind, will silence its voice.

"France will not let itself be intimidated," he added. ". . . We will continue to say with force that dialogue, reason and democracy must triumph over criminal folly."

Chirac, during a speech in the French city of Tours, declared his "indignation" and his "will to do everything possible to prevent and suppress this fanatical violence." He cut short his visit there and returned to Paris, where he met in a hospital with victims of the bomb.

Since the bombings began on July 25, the French government has taken Draconian steps to halt the violence. It has flooded streets and subway cars in the capital with police officers and army reservists, sealed hundreds of trash cans to prevent them from being used as bomb depositories and questioned tens of thousands of North Africans.

Yet the bombs continued to explode--in a trash can near the Arc de Triomphe, at a Paris market and in a car outside a Jewish school in Lyon. One was found in a public bathroom in Paris before it exploded. In all, seven people have died and more than 140 have been injured in eight blasts, in the worst terrorist wave in Paris since the late 1980s.

Fingerprints found on one unexploded bomb, on the high-speed train line between Lyon and Paris, prompted a highly publicized hunt for Khaled Kelkal, a young Algerian-born man from the suburbs of Lyon. He was killed three weeks ago in a shootout with police, and French Interior Minister Jean-Louis Debre declared, to the surprise of detectives, that Kelkal had been responsible for the bombing wave.

Hours after Kelkal's funeral, another bomb exploded outside a subway station in Paris.

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Police now believe the series of guerrilla attacks actually began July 11, two weeks before the first bombing, when Abdelbaki Sahraoui, an elderly Muslim religious leader and co-founder of the FIS, was shot to death by two assassins in his Paris mosque.

The bomb Tuesday blew a large hole in the side of one subway car, seconds after the train left the Orsay Museum stop en route to Saint Michel, a stop near the Notre Dame cathedral and site of the July blast. Rescue workers set up an emergency clinic in the lobby of the museum, on the Left Bank of the Seine across from the Louvre. The Orsay's collection of impressionist paintings has made it one of France's most popular tourist sites. The museum was closed at the time of the blast.

"We heard a very loud explosion and straightaway lots of smoke," one passenger told reporters. "After a few minutes we heard somebody injured on the track who was crying, 'Help, come and help me.' "

Subway officials vowed to reinforce security in the train system and called on passengers to help police identify suspicious packages. But they noted that, with 385 train stations and 5,000 trains in France, the task is monumental.

* Researcher Sarah White in Paris and staff writer Tyler Marshall in Brussels contributed to this report.

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