McDonald's death bomb 'replanted by French agents'

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French authorities believe they are on the way to dismantling the Breton extremist group that planted the fatal bomb at a McDonald's restaurant near Dinan in Brittany two weeks ago.

Nine people have been arrested, all connected with the far-left and environmentalist Breton independence movement Emgann (Combat), which publicly disclaims violence. Bomb-making equipment was allegedly found in the car of one suspect. Judicial sources say phone taps and surveillance have established links between Emgann, with 200 members, and the Armée Révolutionnaire Bretonne (ARB), which is suspected of planting the bomb outside the restaurant at Quévert on 19 April.

Among those arrested is the official spokesman of Emgann, Gael Roblin, 28, who publicly criticised the Quevert bombing. Mr Roblin is suspected of helping to draft an ARB statement at the weekend, which tried to place the blame for the blast on French intelligence services.

In this statement, allegedly handed to a TV journalist on a computer disk by Mr Roblin, the ARB denied involvement in the Quevert explosion but, mystifyingly, admitted planting a bomb at another McDonald's, in Pornic, Brittany, six days earlier. The statement claimed the bomb had been removed by French intelligence agents and replanted in Quevert, killing a 28-year-old woman. French anti-terrorist police and magistrates dismissed this claim at first but were startled to discover this week that there had been a bomb attack on the Pornic McDonald's on the night indicated by the ARB.

The restaurant manager had reported slight damage to the gendarmerie at the time. The gendarmes and manager dismissed the attack as vandalism and the officers did not even visit the site, despite filling in an incident report stating that they did. After the ARB statement, the local McDonald's manager filed another complaint. A special police squad visited the McDonald's and found a small crater and traces of explosives.

The incompetence of the police work is doubly embarrassing for the French government. Had the Pornic bomb been identified at the time, the second, fatal bombing might have been prevented. The convoluted events will also allow the perennially paranoid Breton independence movement to spin complex theories about the French state's responsibility for the Quevert bombing.

The paranoia is not entirely misplaced. There were incidents of French state-inspired terrorism to discredit the Breton movement in the 1970s.

But in this case, the episode also points to the incompetence and amateurism of the ARB. The group was not even aware its own bomb at Pornic had exploded, presumably because the story had not appeared in the newspapers.

Emgann's newspaper has criticised McDonald's as a symbol of the cultural imperialism that threatens Breton values. The organisation has always rejected violence and denied any links with the ARB.

Judicial sources have told French newspapers that phone taps and surveillance have established the direct involvement of Emgann members, including Mr Roblin, in drawing up the weekend statement.

Victor Robert, the television journalist who received the ARB disk - allegedly from Mr Roblin - was also taken into police custody and questioned for two days.