A powerful bomb ripped through an underground train as it entered a station near Notre Dame cathedral Tuesday, killing four rush-hour passengers and wounding 62 others in an blast so intense that it tore the limbs from some victims.
The brutal attack, for which there was no immediate claim of responsibility, turned the usually carefree Latin Quarter on Paris’ Left Bank into an grisly scene resembling a war zone. Two sidewalk cafes near the Seine River became makeshift hospitals for treatment of the wounded, whose clothes were smeared with their blood and that of other victims.
As the warm, sunny July day drew to a close, helicopters darted to and from the cobbled esplanade in front of Notre Dame to airlift the injured to hospitals. Fire fighters, police and medical rescue workers, a total of 500 men and women carried by vehicles with shrieking sirens and flashing lights, poured down the stairs of the Saint-Michel station of the Paris regional rapid rail-service line, where many of the wounded lay.
On the station platform, some of the most critically injured had limbs hastily amputated by doctors, officials said. “It was nearly like war-time surgery,” said Col. Alain Michel of the Paris fire brigade.
Jean-Baptise Balaste, an office worker, was standing on the platform after a day’s work waiting to board the ill-fated train bound for the southern suburbs of Paris when the blast occurred. “It was terrible … ” he recalled. “People were screaming all over the place. Young people were jumping out of the windows. “I first started running away, because I was afraid there might be another explosion. But when I heard the cries and the sighs coming from inside (the train), I went back, because I realized people needed help.”
The terrorist incident was the first of its kind in the French capital since conservative Jacques Chirac won the presidential election last May, ending 14 years of socialist rule. Since taking office, Chirac has espoused a high-profile foreign policy that has roused hostility for some of its elements, including France’s decision to renew nuclear weapons tests in the South Pacific and Chirac’s advocacy of a more vigorous use of military force to protect United Nations-declared “safe areas” in Bosnia.
Because of those new policies, and old enmities aroused by France, analysts conjectured that Tuesday’s bombing, said to be the first in Paris for eight years, could be the work of any one of a number of groups, including the Bosnian Serbs, Islamic fundamentalists from Algeria, and Palestinian hard-liners opposed to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s negotiations with Israel.
But whoever was behind the attack, fears were widespread in France that it could herald a series of terrorist bombings in the capital such as those in 1986-87, blamed on pro-Iranian Lebanese, in which 13 people died and 303 were wounded.
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