Paris police find dynamite at store; obscure group claims responsibility
PARIS Police acting on a warning Tuesday found a bundle of dynamite
inside a Paris department store at the height of the Christmas
season, and a group demanding that France withdraw from Afghanistan
Sticks of dynamite tied together but without a detonator were found
in the Printemps department store, a favoured shopping destination
for tourists, and a Christmas season attraction because of its
festive window displays.
Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said the explosives appeared
"relatively old." Police said they were found in the third floor
washroom of the menswear department. Five sticks were found together,
"There was no risk of explosion," the minister said.
French news agency Agence France-Presse said it received a letter
Tuesday morning from a group calling itself the Afghan Revolutionary
Front saying that several bombs had been planted in the store. Police
said they searched the store and found the dynamite because of the warning.
Alliot-Marie said the group was "totally unknown" to police but that
the claim was being studied.
In the letter, the group demanded the withdrawal of French troops
from Afghanistan before the end of February, and threatened attacks
if France refuses.
"Otherwise we will go back into action in your big capitalist stores
and this time without warning you," the letter said, according to AFP.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has increased France's troop levels in
Afghanistan, quickly stressed that he would not bend to terrorism.
France has 2,800 troops in Afghanistan.
"We need to be vigilant about terrorism. That is the only right
policy. We have to be firm. We cannot compromise with terrorists,"
A senior police official said several aspects of the incident did not
bear the hallmarks of Islamic terrorism - sending a warning, the type
of explosives used, the language in the letter and the name used by
the group. The group is unknown to the French domestic intelligence
agency, the official said anonymously because she was not authorized
to speak to the media. "This doesn't resemble anything we have ever seen."
Officers cordoned off streets around the building. Anti-crime
brigades and bomb squads with a sniffer dog were called in.
French television showed pictures of women clutching one another or
crying as they left the store under a line of police tape. Some
staffers described a sense of panic as the evacuation order came down.
"Of course, I was scared. I felt free - I was just relieved to get
out," said Printemps employee Jimmy Manso, waiting to go back inside.
Others took it more in stride.
"It's worrying, but there's no reason to panic," said Evelyne Bredy,
a sportswear saleswoman who works on the third floor, where the
explosives were found.
"We're used to it. It happens," she said. "There are often suspicious
packages - though maybe not this type of evacuation."
Cabbage-patch revolutionaries? The French 'grocer terrorists'
The villagers of Tarnac were charmed by the self-sufficient students
who set up a commune in their midst. Little did they realise that
their new neighbours were anarchists bent on overthrowing capitalism.
Or so the police claimed. So what is the truth?
Thursday, 18 December 2008
They are brilliant ex-students from bourgeois families who live in a
farm commune in the green, empty, centre of France. To the delight of
local people, they have revived the defunct village shop and bar.
They are also, according to the French Interior Minister,
"ultra-leftist-anarchist" subversives, members of an "invisible
committee" plotting the violent downfall of capitalism.
Since nine of the alleged "terrorist grocers" were arrested one month
ago, severe doubts have surfaced about the French government's
allegations. Villagers at Tarnac in Corrèze in south-west France and
parents of the suspects have campaigned for the investigation against
the so-called "Tarnac Nine" to be dropped. The whole notion of an
"ultra-left" terrorist threat is an absurdity, they say: the
convenient fantasy of an "authoritarian", centre-right government.
But what of the explosives planted this week a few days before
Christmas in Printemps, the Paris department store? All the
evidence suggests that this bizarre incident was not the work of an
Afghan group, as a rambling warning letter to the French news agency
claimed. Investigators, and independent experts, said yesterday that
the ageing, unfused, and therefore non-threatening sticks of dynamite
found in a lavatory cistern were probably planted by a lone crank or
by a would-be subversive group on the far left.
The French intelligence expert and former intelligence official Eric
Dénécé believes that the evidence points leftwards. "[The ultra left]
is a threat which should be taken seriously," he said yesterday.
"There is a real resurgence of these movements, driven by groups in
Germany, Britain and the United States.
"They attract relatively young people, who are often highly
intelligent. They start off in eco-terrorism or in the most radical
wings of the animal rights or anti-capitalist movements."
The evidence that the Printemps "toilet bomb" was planted by someone
on the far left comes mostly from the language of the warning letter
to Agence France-Presse. There were no religious references or
Koranic texts. Instead, the letter spoke of "capitalist" stores and
"revolutionary" movements words never used by Islamist radicals.
Police sources indicated yesterday that the "Islamist" line of
inquiry for the Printemps "bomb" had been more or less abandoned.
They said that inquiries now concentrated on the possibility of a
malicious stunt by someone with a grudge against the store or a
"clumsy" attempt to spread fear by an extremist group, "probably on the left".
The evidence for an ultra left-wing Printemps plot is thin so far.
The evidence against the Tarnac Nine is equally thin but
intriguing. Seven of the "nine" have been placed under formal
investigation by magistrates but released pending further inquiries.
Two the alleged ringleaders, a boyfriend and girlfriend, Julien
Coupat and Yildune Levy, aged 34 and 25 remain in custody, accused
of "associating with wrong-doers with terrorist aims". Their parents
have been refused permission to see them.
One month after the arrests, the only evidence assembled against the
couple suggests that they were linked to a series of crude but
effective attacks on the overhead power cables of railway lines.
In October and November, small, hooked, U-shaped pieces of metal were
suspended on the 25,000 volts power supply of high-speed lines,
bringing down the wires when a Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) passed.
No one was hurt, or could possibly have been hurt in these escapades,
except the attackers themselves. This was vandalism certainly and
maybe politically motivated sabotage. The attacks caused enormous
annoyance and heartache for thousands of passengers whose trains were
blocked for several hours. But can such activities really be
described as "terrorism"?
On 8 November, M. Coupat and Mme Levy were briefly questioned and
released by police in the early hours of the morning on a small road
east of Paris, 250 miles from their home in Corrèze. A couple of
miles away, an hour or so later, a TGV ran into one of the U-shaped
hooks on a high-speed line.
It was three days before investigators linked M. Coupat's name to a
subversive book published last year, signed by the "Invisible
Committee". The book describes acts of civil disobedience, including
ways to block railway lines. A dawn police raid was made on 11
November on the commune where he lived in the pretty hill village of
Tarnac. Co-ordinated raids were also made on the homes of Mme Levy
and other friends of M. Coupat in the greater Paris area, in Rouen
and in Lorraine.
Defence lawyers say that no evidence has yet been produced to link
any of the other suspects to the TGV attacks. No direct evidence
other than their presence close to the scene of one incident has
been produced against M. Coupat and Mme Levy. Residents of the Tarnac
commune up to 20 young people and children at any one time did
not appear to be sinister or reclusive. All were on good terms with
their, mostly well-heeled, parents. They were admired by their
conservative, farming neighbours for their hard work and their
resurrection of the village shop.
Leaks from the police investigation suggest, darkly, that they
avoided mobile phones because they wished to remain "undetected". The
commune members say that they shunned them as symbols of a
The case of the "Tarnac Nine" seemed initially to be an enormous coup
for the French government and especially for the Interior Minister,
Michèle Alliot-Marie. Ever since she took office last May, Mme
Alliot-Marie has been warning, publicly and privately, that Europe
faces a grave threat from a new generation of "ultra-leftist"
terrorists, who hope to revive the 1970s activities of the German
Baader-Meinhof gang, the Italian Red Brigades and the French "Action Directe".
On the afternoon of 11 November, Mme Alliot-Marie announced the
arrest of the Tarnac Nine, amid great media fanfare. They were
suspected, she said, of being part of a secret, well-organised
movement of "ultra-left, anarchist, autonomists" with international links.
"These people wanted to attack the SNCF [the publicly owned French
railway company] as a symbol of the state," she said.
Since then, the investigation has made little progress. Judges
ordered the release of two suspects, then another three. Villagers in
Tarnac have protested against what they see as an "absurd" attack on
young people living a harmless, alternative lifestyle and providing
useful local services. A few days ago, more than 150 people attended
a support meeting in the Tarnac village hall, addressed by the
parents of four of the suspects.
"In Tarnac, they planted carrots without bosses or leaders," said the
mother of one suspect, who declined to be identified. "And these are
the people that the police suspect of being super-organised."
Awkward questions have been asked in the French press and by
opposition politicians and even within President Nicolas Sarkozy's
centre-right government. There may be evidence against two of the
"nine", but how can aggravated vandalism be described as "terrorism"?
Why has so much been made by Mme Alliot-Marie of what may at most
have been an act of priggish civil disobedience by a couple of
brilliant young people with idealist-extremist ideas?
"Our freedom is under threat. We are living in a police state," said
Jocelyne Coupat, the mother of the chief suspect. She and her
husband, Gérard, both doctors, have campaigned tirelessly for their
son's release and asserted his innocence. They live in a wealthy
suburb west of Paris and have always voted for the centre-right.
Michel Levy, the father of Yildune, has a rather different
background. He took part in the student protests of May 1968 and
remains a friend of the leader of the protests, Daniel Cohn-Bendit.
His daughter is an archaeologist with a first class degree. Her
boyfriend, M. Coupat, attended prestigious business and economics
colleges in the Paris area and speaks six languages. "They are trying
to make them out to be Bonnie and Clyde. It's a load of old rubbish,"
said M. Levy.
Benjamin Rosoux, 30, the main "shopkeeper" at Tarnac, was among the
seven people arrested and later released. He has since complained to
the French press about the "surreal" questioning by police
investigators. He said that they asked questions such as: "Do you
have orgies in your commune?" or made accusations such as: "Your
heads are full of rubbish because you have read too many books."
He confesses to left-wing "militant" views but rejects the accusation
that the Tarnac commune was a kind of terrorist base camp.
By using the word "terrorist" as "a kind of badge of infamy", he
said, the government was trying to undermine "anyone who opposes its
policies, anyone who has a different vision of the world". Both
investigations the Printemps toilet bomb and the "terrorist"
grocers of Corrèze ...