Parcel bomb kills woman near Sarkozy's law office

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The Independent Online

A parcel bomb killed a secretary and seriously injured a lawyer close to the former legal offices of President Nicolas Sarkozy in central Paris yesterday. The motive for the attack, three floors above a company part-owned by the President, was unclear. Investigators were considering the possibility that the device was intended for M. Sarkozy's firm but was addressed incorrectly.

Another theory being considered is that the package was mailed by a far-right or anti-Semitic group, because the offices of a Holocaust memorial foundation are on the same floor.

Two explosive devices, concealed in a wooden box wrapped in brown paper, were delivered to the office by motorcycle courier at lunchtime. The bombs went off when the parcel was opened by a 60-year-old secretary and killed her instantly. The identity of the dead woman was not revealed but her boss, Olivier Brane, 58, was said to be badly injured. Ten other staff were treated for shock and minor wounds.

A construction worker working across the street told the Associated Press news agency that he first heard a muffled explosion, and later saw a blonde woman being carried out of the building. "She was completely covered with blood. She was unconscious," said Damien Laude, adding that he also saw a man with a head wound emerge from the building.

A large security cordon, including police and soldiers, surrounded the building at 52 Boulevard Malesherbes last night. Investigators were trying to piece together remnants of the booby-trapped parcel and to identify the despatch rider from security camera video tapes.

The Interior minister, Michle Alliot-Marie, cut short a visit to Brussels to return to Paris and visit the scene. She described the attack as a "cowardly and odious act" and added: "For the moment, we do not have any clear leads. It seems that it really was someone in this law firm who was the target."

The company, owned by Mme Catherine Gouet-Jenselme and M. Brane, specialises in commercial and civil law, including property, insurance disputes and divorce.

Other lawyers at the practice, on the fourth floor of the building, told police that they were involved in no sensitive cases and could think of no reason for the attack.

Pierre Ponos, a lawyer who works in the building, told a French radio station that the parcel containing the two bombs was specifically addressed to Mme Gouet-Janselme and M. Brane. On the first floor of the building, near the Church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine in the city's 8th arrondissement, are the offices of a law firm founded by M. Sarkozy in 1987.

When he was elected President in May, the company changed its name from Arnaud Claude-Nicolas Sarkozy to Arnaud Claude et Associs. The President, who has rarely practised law, still owns 30 per cent of the company.

Last night, detectives were said to be considering the possibility that the bomber, or bombers, had confused the two legal firms, or that it was some kind of revenge attack on Gouet-Jenselme and Brane.

On the same landing are the offices of the Fondation pour la Mmoire de la Shoah, an association which promotes memory and understanding of the Holocaust. Its office was empty yesterday but the veteran French Nazi-hunter, Serge Klarsfeld, who visited the scene, played down the likelihood that it was an anti-Semitic act, saying: "There has never been a threat."

Jean-Claude Marin, the chief public prosecutor, said: "For the moment, the motives are totally unknown. It appears that a messenger brought a wooden box, containing two linked devices, which both exploded when it opened."