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Security

In: Social Issues

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Die as Terrorist Bomb Rips Train at a Paris Station
By CRAIG R. WHITNEY
Published: December 4, 1996
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A powerful explosion ripped apart one car of a packed commuter train pulling into a Paris rail station at the height of the evening rush hour tonight, killing two passengers and critically wounding seven in what President Jacques Chirac condemned as ''an act of barbarity and terrorism.''
The authorities immediately reactivated antiterrorist security precautions that had been relaxed after a series of similar explosions last year in which eight people died. The 1995 attacks were mounted by Algerian Muslim militants opposed to French support for Algeria's military-backed Government.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast tonight, but Prime Minister Alain Juppe, who went to the scene, said it was caused by an explosive device. The police said 85 people in all had suffered injuries or shock.
The blast ripped open the doors of the train, on the southbound track of the Port Royal station of the regional express network on the Left Bank, and scattered the wounded, totaling 35, over the platform. Scores of police vehicles and ambulances converged to the scene and hundreds of police officers sealed off the station. Witnesses said the blast occurred at 6:03 P.M. People living nearby said dense smoke smelling of gunpowder came boiling up from the station, which is only half underground as the rail line passes under Boulevard Montparnasse.
''I was in the front,'' said a passenger on the train who did not give his name. ''People rushed out. There were badly hurt people on the floor in the middle of the train, which was still burning.''
Another victim told the French radio, ''We couldn't breathe because there was so much smoke.''
At the heavily guarded scene, Capt. Jean-Luc Chivot, a fire department spokesman, said the exact cause had not been determined. Later French reports, however, citing police sources, said the explosion came from a bomb made from a 28-pound camping gas canister filled with nails, like the ones in the attacks last year.
Captain Chivot said the blast had ripped metal parts out of the passenger car, the second to the last in an eight-car train headed south toward Orly Airport and the suburbs beyond, and that there had been some damage and injuries from fire as well.
Behind the police barricades that sealed off the blocks around the scene within minutes of the first call for emergency help at 6:07 P.M., ambulance crews and firefighters swarmed over the station and interviewed witnesses. Traffic was snarled for blocks around, from the Seine and the Latin Quarter to the Boulevard Montparnasse.
Remy Jiemza, a 20-year-old student, said he had just opened a door to enter the station when the explosion went off. ''The entrance immediately filled with thick smoke, and people came up the stairs gasping and crying,'' he said. ''The first thing I thought of were the terrorist attacks last year.''
Interior Minister Jean-Louis Debre called an emergency meeting of security and immigration officials in his office tonight and said border controls would be stepped up to keep possible terrorists out. And Mr. Juppe announced that the stepped-up security of an emergency plan known as Vigipirate, which was put into effect after a series of terrorist bombings last year, would be put back into effect immediately. The measures will include joint army and police patrols and the welding shut of trash cans to make it harder for terrorists to hide more devices.
Underlining the collective sense of shock, Mr. Chirac broke off a meeting with Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany and addressed the nation on television, in grave tones.
''This was without any doubt an act of barbarity and terrorism,'' he said. ''My first thoughts are with the victims, with their families, with the injured and those close to them. Before these unacceptable actions, these barbaric acts which always victimize the innocent, I would like to assure you, dear compatriots, of my determination and that of the Government, of the entire nation, I am sure, to struggle with every possible means against terrorism in all its forms.''
The mood in Paris, already bleak after a series of transport strikes and a seemingly insoluble unemployment problem, was suddenly as tense as it was between July and October 1995 when a series of bombs killed eight people and wounded more than 160.
Most of the deaths and injuries last year came from attacks on trains like the one that was bombed tonight. The highest toll was in the first attack, on July 25, 1995, two stations away on the same line, the B line of the R.E.R., from the site of the attack tonight. Eight people were killed and 84 wounded in that first bombing last year.
Armed Algerian opposition groups claimed responsibility for the campaign, warning France that they would continue until Paris cut diplomatic and economic ties with the Government of President Liamine Zeroual in Algiers.
The French response was immediate, including paramilitary sweeps through the heavily North African neighborhoods that ring most big French cities. In Paris, the authorities called in the army to reinforce police patrols, demanded identity papers from people whom they deemed to look suspicious and welded the trash bins in subway stations to prevent further bombs.
The last major bomb blast in Paris before the one tonight wounded 29 people in an R.E.R. train near the Orsay Museum on Oct. 17, 1995, and most of the security measures introduced the explosion had been quietly allowed to lapse.
The bombing tonight, if indeed it was carried out by an Algerian armed opposition group, may show that France is not yet done with the problem of its former colony, which became independent in 1962 after a war that bitterly divided France and left it a legacy of ethnic and racial tension that is bound to increase with this new attack.
Photo: Commuters from a train ripped by a terrorist bomb at the Port Royal station in central Paris yesterday tried to recover from the shock at a nearby pharmacy. Two people died and seven were badly wounded in the blast. (Reuters) Map of Paris showing the location of site of the blast.…...

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