With subway bombing, terror returns to Paris

PARIS (AP) — A bomb tore apart a packed subway car in the heart of Paris on Tuesday, killing two people, wounding dozens and bringing fears of a new bombing campaign like the one that terrorized the city last year.
“It’s starting again,” said Estelle Campos, clutching her 6- and 12-year-old sons tight near the subway station on the edge of the Latin Quarter. “It’s always the same people who pay.”
The bomb was fashioned from a 28-pound gas canister — the signature bomb used in the 1995 attacks that killed eight people and injured 160. Algerian Muslim militants claimed responsibility for those attacks.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rush-hour bombing. It happened at 6:05 p.m. at the Port-Royal station on the RER regional line that shuttles thousands of commuters in and out of the French capital. The station is located between the Boulevard St. Michel and the Boulevard Montparnasse, about two miles from the Eiffel Tower and one mile from the Notre Dame cathedral.
The bomb exploded just as the train was pulling into the station, which is partially in open air. French radio said many more might have died had the entire station been underground, concentrating the force of the blast.
Police and rescue workers said the bomb killed two people instantly and seriously injured another 35, seven of them critically. About 50 other people were slightly hurt.
Europe 1 radio, citing sources close to the investigation, said the canister was packed with nails, and that one body was mutilated by the shrapnel.
French radio said some passengers had seen an abandoned package on the train before the explosion.
The blast blew the doors off the subway car, the second in a long train. The detonation could be felt as far back as the rear of the train, a passenger told French radio.
The passenger said he grabbed a fire extinguisher and pushed through the panicked crowd to reach the burned-out hulk of the subway car.
“The car was still burning. There were no more seats. The doors were folded in half,” he said.
Mutilated people lay on the ground, he said.
Witnesses described a scene of panic, of thick black smoke, the chilling wail of ambulances and paramedics frantically carrying away the wounded on stretchers.
“I saw lots and lots of smoke and I heard a big boom,” said a man who gave his name only as Jean-Francois. “People were crying and in a state of shock.”
The first ambulances were on the scene within two minutes, a witness said. The wounded were rushed to a nearby military hospital specializing in trauma victims.
The blast was chillingly close to the site of the worst of last year’s bombings, at the St. Michel station. The July 25 bomb killed eight people and wounded 84 others, and launched a four-month bombing campaign that put Paris under siege.
A somber President Jacques Chirac condemned “these unacceptable acts, these barbaric acts that always attack innocent people.”
“The government and I are determined to fight against terrorism in all its forms,” he said. “No stone will be left unturned.”
Prime Minister Alain Juppe said the government had reinstated an emergency plan, tightening borders and mobilizing hundreds of soldiers and machine-gun toting police at airports, train stations and public squares across the country.
Muslim militants in Algeria claimed responsibility for most of last year’s bombings, which ended Oct. 17. Those bombings also involved gas canisters, packed with nails, nuts and bolts.
The militants consider France’s tacit support of Algeria’s army-backed government a major obstacle to their fight to establish an Islamic state.
Transit workers ushered people who thought they had family members in the blast into a bus, serving them hot chocolate and questioning them. Some were crying.
“In the days to come, public officials will have to help people deal with both the psychological and social impact,” said Francoise Rudzetski, head of SOS Attentats, a terrorist victims’ group.
The explosion happened in a residential quarter of Paris, just across the street from the famed Closerie des Lilas, a restaurant frequented by American writers such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.