France began beefing up security across the country on Tuesday after an unknown group placed dynamite in a Paris department store and threatened more attacks if French troops were not pulled out of Afghanistan.
Police located and made safe the five sticks of dynamite placed in a washroom in the giant Printemps store on Boulevard Haussmann, one of Europe’s busiest shopping streets.
The boulevard was cordoned off for several hours while hordes of Christmas shoppers and tourists were evacuated.
A group calling itself the Afghan Revolutionary Front sent a letter to Agence France-Presse (AFP) warning of “several bombs” in the upscale store and demanding that France withdraw its 2,600 troops by the end of February.
French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said police reinforcements would be deployed in Paris and major French cities following the discovery of the dynamite.
“I have decided to reinforce security arrangements in Paris and major provincial cities,” she told the French Senate, announcing a meeting of police, intelligence and transport chiefs yesterday in Paris.
“It is our role to be constantly vigilant, whatever the circumstances,” she said later.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, meanwhile, told journalists there was a “strong terrorist threat to France.”
Executives from Printemps Haussmann, which has 2,000 employees and gets about 100,000 customers a day, were due to take part in the midday meeting in Paris along with other store heads.
The dynamite was not attached to a detonator and posed little danger, the minister said.
The letter, which AFP passed on to police, linked the warning to the French deployment in Afghanistan, where NATO and US forces are battling Taliban insurgents alongside government forces.
“Send the message to your president that he must withdraw his troops from our country before the end of February 2009 or else we will take action in your capitalist department stores and this time, without warning,” it said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in Strasbourg to address the European Parliament, called for vigilance and firmness in the battle against terrorism.
“Vigilance against terrorism is the only possible policy; vigilance because unfortunately anything can happen, and firmness because you cannot compromise with terrorism,” he told reporters.
The postmark on the threatening letter showed it was sent on Monday in northeastern Paris and arrived at AFP before 9am on Tuesday.
A French former anti-terrorist judge, who viewed the text, told AFP that the language was not of the kind normally used by Islamist militants, in particular because there were no religious references of any sort.
The judge spoke on condition of anonymity.