PARIS – Police found five sticks of dynamite in a landmark Paris department store Tuesday, after an unknown group warned that bombs were hidden there and threatened more attacks unless France withdraws its military forces from Afghanistan.
The interior minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, said the dynamite was old and there was no detonator to set it off, suggesting the threat to Christmas-season shoppers had been minimal. But the scare nevertheless dramatized the risks inherent in President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision last April to increase the number of French troops in Afghanistan to about 3,000 and expand their role to include combat operations.
The French news agency Agence France-Presse said it received a letter at its Paris headquarters Tuesday morning warning that several “bombs” had been placed in the men’s section of Printemps, one of two giant department stores near the Gare St. Lazare train station in central Paris. The letter, posted in Paris on Monday, seemed designed to help police find the explosives, specifying a bomb was in the third-floor toilets “in the first toilet as you enter.” But it warned that next time there would be no such notice.
“Get this message to your president of the republic so he withdraws these troops from (Afghanistan) before the end of February 2009,” added the letter, signed by the Afghan Revolutionary Front. “Otherwise we will be in action again in your capitalist department stores, and this time without warning you.”
The letter, written in French with a number of grammatical errors, went on to say two more “bombs” had been placed in the women’s toilets on the second floor. Alliot-Marie said police found five sticks of dynamite in all, without specifying where they were discovered.
Soon after getting word of the letter, police cordoned off the area and evacuated the store, which normally would be crowded with shoppers and tourists buying Christmas presents and enjoying elaborately decorated show windows that are an annual attraction. Several hours later police took down their barriers and the store reopened for business under increased security.