| An official inspects railway lines near Paris. (AFP)
Paris, March 24 (Reuters): France’s state-run SNCF railway found a bomb half-buried on the main line between Paris and the Swiss city of Basle today, just two weeks after the Madrid train bombings.
The interior ministry made no mention of any Islamic threat in a statement about the discovery. But the US dollar slipped against the Swiss franc, a classic refuge currency in times of global upheaval, after the scare.
The ministry said the device had been found near the city of Troyes about 150 km southeast of the French capital and had been made safe by bomb disposal experts.
It did not say who was suspected of planting the device but that it did not resemble one left by a shadowy group calling itself AZF, which has demanded money and threatened to blow up part of the track.
The device was discovered less than a week after a bomb hoax that held up rail traffic to northern France and London. France has been on high alert for bombs, particularly since the Madrid bombings on March 11 that killed 190 people.
“A SNCF worker was doing his rounds near the tracks and noted something unusual,” a spokeswoman for SNCF railway company said, but gave no other details on the object. She said the worker had spotted the object around 1130 GMT and notified authorities.
The device was being studied by experts. The interior ministry described it as a small transparent plastic box containing nitrate fuel and a battery linked to detonators and a timing device. The interior ministry said the device was half-buried between the rails and gravel.
“Bomb disposal experts who immediately intervened neutralised the device,” the ministry said. “The (police) laboratory is examining the device to ascertain how dangerous it was.”
Since the bombings in Madrid, Spanish police have arrested 13 people, including 10 Moroccans, for their alleged role.
A self-proclaimed Islamic group has sent letters containing threats to several French embassies in African and Muslim countries, judicial sources said yesterday, but there were doubts about the group’s authenticity.
The sources said the letters were posted in Paris and bore the name of a group calling itself the Movsar Barayev Commando after a late Chechen Islamist.
Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said France would not increase security as a result, adding the letters resembled those sent by the same group to his office and two newspapers last week.
“For us, this is nothing new. These letters were widely distributed and today they are being assessed. Our attitude remains one of lucidity, vigilance but calm,” he said during a visit to a military airbase near Paris.
Neither Raffarin nor the judicial sources said which embassies received the threats or gave details of their content.
Authorities initially took the first threat to “sow terror and remorse” seriously. But interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy subsequently said it did not bear typical Islamic hallmarks.
The group takes its name from a Chechen commander killed in a hostage-taking operation in Moscow. The successor of his rebel unit has denied any links with the French threats.