A powerful explosion ripped apart one car of a packed commuter train pulling into a Paris rail station at the height of the evening rush hour on Tuesday night, killing two passengers and critically wounding seven in what President Jacques Chirac condemned as “an act of barbarity and terrorism.”
The authorities immediately reactivated antiterrorist security precautions that had been relaxed after a series of similar explosions last year in which eight people died. The 1995 attacks were mounted by Algerian Muslim militants opposed to French support for Algeria’s military-backed government.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast on Tuesday night, but Prime Minister Alain Juppe, who rushed to the scene, said it was caused by an explosive device. The police said 85 people in all had suffered injuries or shock.
The blast ripped open the doors of the train, on the southbound track of the Port Royal station of the regional express network on the Left Bank, and scattered the injured, totaling 35, over the platform. Scores of police vehicles and ambulances rushed to the scene and hundreds of police officers sealed off the station.
Witnesses said the blast occurred at 6:03 p.m. People living nearby said dense smoke smelling of gunpowder came boiling up out of the station, which is only half underground as the rail line passes under Boulevard Montparnasse.
At the heavily guarded scene, Capt. Jean-Luc Chivot, a fire department spokesman, said the exact cause had not been determined. Later French reports, however, citing police sources, said the explosion came from a bomb made from a 28-pound camping gas canister filled with nails, like the ones in the attacks last year.
Chivot said the blast had ripped metal parts out of the passenger car, the second to the last in an eight-car train headed south toward Orly Airport and the suburbs beyond, and that there had been some damage and injuries from fire as well.
Interior Minister Jean-Louis Debre called an emergency meeting of security and immigration officials in his office on Tuesday night and said border controls would be stepped up to keep possible terrorists out. And Juppe announced that the stepped-up security of an emergency plan known as Vigipirate, which was put into effect after a series of terrorist bombings last year, would be put back into effect immediately.