A bomb exploded near the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris yesterday evening, injuring 17 people, three of them- including a unidentified British woman - seriously. Police said the bomb, which was packed with nails, was planted in a litter bin near a newspaper kiosk on Avenue Friedland, close to where it meets the Place de l'Etoile.
The explosion happened just over three weeks after an explosion on a train at the city's Saint-Michel Metro station. That blast, which killed seven people and injured more than 80, had prompted fears of a concerted terrorist campaign against the French capital.
The 17 victims comprised six French nationals, the British woman, four Hungarians, four Italians, a German woman and a Portuguese man. Four of them were children.
Although a spokesman for the anti-terrorist squad cautioned against drawing an automatic comparison with the earlier bomb, the similarities were striking. Yesterday's explosion happened shortly before 5.30pm, almost the same time as the one at Saint-Michel, during the evening rush hour. It was also placed near a major transport hub and close to a symbolic Paris landmark - in the earlier case, Notre Dame Cathedral. The device was also similar: explosives contained in a camping gas cylinder.
Witnesses said they saw a grey Mercedes with diplomatic plates close to the scene immediately before the explosion, going unusually fast. The Iranian embassy, on the nearby Avenue d'Iena, later condemned the explosion and denied any Iranian involvement.
The area of the Arc de Triomphe was cordoned off, creating severe traffic congestion. Twelve major streets lead into the Place de l'Etoile. Although the rush hour in August is less busy than at other times of year, the area is always thronging with tourists.
The French prime minister, Alain Juppe, visited the scene an hour after the blast, with the head of the anti-terrorist squad. He expressed sympathy for the victims and their families but made no further comment.
The attack came amid increasing signs that the investigation into the first attack was running into difficulty. Although French police have issued photofit pictures of three ''important witnesses'', progress has been slow.
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