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Bomb Threats Target French Rail Lines

March 04, 2004|From Associated Press

PARIS — Nearly 10,000 rail workers hunted for bombs along thousands of miles of tracks Wednesday in France after a little-known group threatened to set off explosions unless it was paid millions of dollars.

"We know nothing of this group, but we are taking the threat seriously," Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said.

The group, which calls itself AZF, gave information that led to the recovery Feb. 21 of an explosive device buried in the bed of a railway line near Limoges in south-central France, the government said.

Tests showed that the bomb -- made of diesel fuel, nitrates and a sophisticated detonator -- was powerful enough to rupture the track, judicial officials said on condition of anonymity.

The group's initials match those of a chemical factory that exploded near the southern city of Toulouse on Sept. 21, 2001. Investigators believe that the blast, which killed 30 people, was accidental.

AZF claims to be a pressure group with terrorist characteristics, the Interior Ministry said, but the group has not clearly defined itself or any political aims.

Police do not believe the group is connected to Islamic terrorism.

President Jacques Chirac's office and the Interior Ministry received at least three letters from the group -- on Dec. 10, Feb. 13 and Feb. 17 -- that threatened nine railway targets, officials said.

The Interior Ministry said Wednesday that AZF had sent several letters demanding $4 million plus 1 million euros, or about $1.2 million, to dismantle bombs along rail lines.

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