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Bomb Planted on Paris Train Kills 2, Hurts 85

Terrorism: Blast follows pattern seen in series of attacks last year claimed by Algerian militants. No group takes responsibility.

December 04, 1996|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — Rush-hour terrorism again rocked the French capital Tuesday as a bomb exploded with a deafening roar and billows of foul-smelling smoke on an evening commuter train, killing two people and wounding more than 80 others.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but French officials said the blast at a station on Paris' Left Bank shortly after 6 p.m. was caused by a cylinder of cooking gas packed with explosives. That was a weapon of choice of Algerian Islamic extremists in a wave of bombings that shocked Paris last year.

President Jacques Chirac denounced the bombing as "an act of barbarism" and voiced his determination "to fight terrorism in all its forms."

Interior Minister Jean-Louis Debre, who rushed to the scene of the attack with other officials, ordered the reactivation of anti-terrorism measures that had been decreed during the bombings that hit the Paris subway and rapid-rail network in 1995, indicating that authorities fear more attacks.

Tuesday's bombing--in the fourth car of an eight-car train of the RER rapid regional rail network that was entering the Port Royal station south of the Luxembourg Gardens--blew out the car's windows, twisted its metal frame, ignited fires and generated a huge cloud of smoke, witnesses said.

"In the middle of the train, there were mutilated people on the floor," one passenger told France Info radio. "At the moment of the explosion, the train shook, it jumped a little. . . . People were crying."

Paris police said two people were killed and at least 85 others injured, including seven described as being in "very grave" condition.

Prime Minister Alain Juppe, talking to reporters at the scene, said he had no immediate information about the "criminal act's origin." But the bombing instantly conjured up the specter of urban terrorism that haunted Paris last year.

In 1995, the series of attacks claimed by the Armed Islamic Group, a band of Algerian fundamentalist militants, left eight people dead and 160 wounded. The first of those attacks, in July of last year, was a cookie-cutter version of what happened Tuesday: An explosive planted during the early evening on an RER train killed eight people and wounded about 100 others about a mile from Port Royal.

In three of the 1995 bombings, as on Tuesday, the targets were the Paris subway and the RER. The militants, who oppose France's support for the Algerian government, fashioned their deadly charges from empty 28-pound canisters of domestic gas used in many French households for cooking.

On Tuesday night, investigators found the bottom of a gas cylinder stuck to the floor of the damaged rail car, although the container itself had been blown apart. Officials were trying to determine what kind of explosive had been used, and whether, as in 1995, the cylinder had been loaded with nuts and bolts to increase the bomb's killing power. Wire services reported that Justice Ministry officials said that nails had indeed been used.

The bomb's concussion was so deafening that many passengers complained of hearing problems. Firefighters said the blast, which took place as the train was emerging from a tunnel onto an open stretch of track, would have claimed a far higher toll underground.

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