Terrorists struck France for the fourth time in 40 days yesterday, planting a home-made bomb under a fruit stall at a popular Sunday market on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir, close to the Bastille in Paris. Four women were injured, two with second-degree burns, but none was seriously hurt.
According to witnesses, far greater casualties were averted only because the bomb did not detonate properly. Explosives experts confirmed that while the detonator had gone off, it had failed to ignite the explosives. The bomb was of similar construction to that of the three previous devices - with explosives, nuts and bolts packed inside a sealed container, in this case a pressure cooker. Empty camping gas cylinders were used in the three earlier bombs.
Francoise Klein, the owner of a charcuterie stand immediately behind the fruit stall, said she heard a loud, dull boom, then saw white smoke. People rushed over with water to put out what they presumed was a fire. Police were on the scene almost at once, followed by the interior minister, Jean-Louis Debre and the Paris police chief, Philippe Massoni.
The attack came just over a week after an unexploded bomb was found on the high-speed train track just north of Lyons. The first, and most devastating, attack was at the St Michel Metro station near Notre Dame cathedral in central Paris on 25 July. Seven people were killed in that explosion, and more than 80 injured. A bomb planted on 17 August in a litter bin close to the Arc de Triomphe injured 16 people.
Initially reluctant to hold any one group responsible for the attacks, police and government officials now favour a connection with the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which hijacked an Air France Airbus to Marseilles last Christmas. Last week, the Paris prosecutor issued an extradition order for a suspected GIA leader, Abdelkrim Deneche, who is currently being held in prison in Stockholm. The order cites the St Michel bombing.
Yesterday's bomb attack took place on the eve of a major terrorist trial in Brussels, where 13 presumed members of the GIA will appear before the court charged with "association with criminals'' and firearms and explosives offences.
n A Spaniard in his thirties was being questioned yesterday in Geneva after the hijacking of an Airbus from Air Inter airline en route from Majorca to Paris. It was initially treated as a terrorist incident, but turned out to be a protest against France's planned nuclear tests.