France Finds Railside Bomb; PM Urges Calm
1 hour, 57 minutes ago
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By Gerard Bon
PARIS (Reuters) - A French railway worker found a bomb half-buried on the main line between Paris and Switzerland Wednesday, alarming commuters across Europe and jolting financial markets two weeks after the Madrid train bombs.
Bomb experts detonated the makeshift device and the Interior Ministry made no mention of any Islamic threat in a statement about the discovery. But the dollar slipped against the Swiss franc, a refuge currency, and markets elsewhere were jittery.
"I call on everybody to be calm until the investigation is over," Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said, interrupting his campaigning for voting in regional elections Sunday.
The Ministry said the bomb consisted of a nitrate-based fuel in a plastic container. It was discovered around midday concealed under tracks in the countryside near the city of Troyes about 90 miles southeast of the French capital.
"An SNCF worker was doing his rounds near the tracks and noted something unusual," a spokeswoman for the railway said. Traffic was suspended in both directions.
The state-run railway said it was ordering thousands of staff to carry out the second inspection in a month of the entire 20,000-mile network, which carries 2.5 million people daily.
French television showed police and railway staff by the line where the bomb was found, on a stretch of track surrounded by trees.
Despite the scare, Rafferin completed a scheduled regional election campaign trip by plane to the historic city of Troyes. Officials said the visit had been agreed at the last-minute and ruled out any link.
French railways and airports have been on red alert since bomb blasts on trains in Madrid on March 11 killed 190 people. Spanish police have arrested 13 people, including 10 Moroccans, for their alleged role in the bombings.
The Interior Ministry said the device had been half-buried between the rails and gravel. Once made safe by bomb disposal experts, it was sent for examination by forensic scientists at the main police laboratory "to ascertain how dangerous it was."
The Ministry said the homemade bomb comprised a small transparent plastic box containing nitrate fuel, a battery linked to a detonators and a timing device.
It did not say who may have planted the latest device but added that it did not resemble one left by a shadowy group calling itself AZF which is demanding cash and threatening to blow up parts of the track.
Last week financial markets still jittery after the Madrid attacks were unnerved by the discovery of a fake bomb on the main high-speed line linking Paris and London. The alert forced a temporary suspension of services.
That incident appeared to be the work of AZF, whose threat to blow up parts of the network prompted an exhaustive search of rail tracks on March 4. The same group directed authorities to an explosive device it had left on the tracks in February.
Asked if the new bomb bore the hallmarks of AZF, Raffarin said in comments broadcast on television: "For the moment I can't answer you. It doesn't match the information we have."
Raffarin also warned France against panic eight days ago, after a self-proclaimed Islamic group threatened to plunge France into "terror and remorse" to punish the country for passing a law banning Islamic headscarves in state schools.
I don't think this was the work of Al Queda or anything like that. Personally, I think it was some smart ass kids or a bunch of Al Queda wannabes. I just thought it was interesting that a country that didn't side with the US in Iraq also happens to have its terrorist issues.
As if maybe someone has the idea that planting bombs in civilian populations has suddenly become a legitimate negociation tool.