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Oct 11, 2004 | 17:05 GMT

4 mins read

France: The Baffling Bombing in Paris

An improvised explosive device left outside the Indonesian Embassy in Paris detonated shortly after 5 a.m. local time Oct. 8, injuring six pedestrians and four embassy workers who were in the building's basement at the time. The impact shattered windows and damaged cars up to 30 yards away, and left a blast seat in the sidewalk about 20 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep.

The bombing is the first in Paris since suspected Algerian Islamist militants staged a series of attacks on the city's subway system in 1995 and 1996. In those bombings, gas canisters filled with nails and bolts were used. This latest attacks marks the first assault against Indonesian interests outside of the country's borders since 1975.

STRATFOR has learned the device — a gas canister filled with gunpowder, according to Parisian police — was placed next to the embassy's protective fence at the point in which the fence comes closest to the chancery. Police have indicated they are not certain how the bomb was activated.

A previously unknown group, the Armed French Islamic Front, claimed responsibility for the attack in e-mail messages sent to police in Paris' 16th District, a publishing house, and also to television and radio stations. The group demanded removal of the French ban on Muslim headscarves in public schools, the release of two Armed Islamic Group militants jailed for the mid-1990s subway bombings, and a ban on publications "aimed at sabotaging Islam in France." The group also said it would maintain a cease-fire until Jan. 30, 2005, but warned that the next round of attacks in France would be "bloodier than ever." French judicial sources have told daily Le Monde that the same group sent e-mails in early October containing similar demands.

In off-the-record statements to the media, French police have said they believe Islamist militants were behind the attack, but that they do not necessarily believe the Armed French Islamic Front carried it out.

This bombing lacks one important earmark of Islamist militants, however, as this group normally prefers to target as many people as possible. An early morning bombing when few people are on the streets does not fit the profile.

This is one of the more puzzling attacks in recent memory. The perpetrators' motivation for the bombing and the targeting of the Indonesian Embassy just three days after Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was declared the winner in the country's presidential elections — seem to point squarely at Islamist militants. However, the method of the bombing — casualties purposefully minimized and the use of a relatively crude explosive device — points instead at militant activist groups. Europe claims a large number of radicalized Muslin youth. Perhaps some of these made the crossover from radicals to militants.

On the other hand, an embassy can hardly be considered a soft target, as it is likely to receive regular police foot patrols and be surrounded by other forms of physical surveillance, including video cameras. This suggests the attackers were not amateurs — or were amateurs who just got lucky.

Additionally, an attack against a diplomatic target indicates the perpetrators are making a political statement. If the Indonesian Embassy were in fact the target of the attack, it is difficult to surmise what type of political statement militants would be attempting to make by bombing the embassy of the world's most populous Muslim nation and making demands of the Western world. It is possible a militant Islamist group views Indonesia's secular nature as "unIslamic" and is thus attempting to show support for other militant Islamist groups in that country.

French intelligence sources have told STRATFOR that the source of this bombing has them baffled, and have suggested a new breed of French-Algerian jihadists carried out its first attack. Based on the available information, that seems as good a theory as any at the moment.

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