Mysterious group plants dynamite in Paris store

A mysterious group calling for the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan claimed responsibility on Tuesday for planting five sticks of dynamite in a large department store in central Paris, a spokesman for the French Interior Ministry said.

Police were deployed to the Printemps department store on the posh Boulevard Haussmann after a letter from a group calling itself the Afghan Revolutionary Front saying that bombs had been planted there was sent to a French news agency, dpa reported.

The entire department store, which was bustling with Christmas shoppers, was evacuated and police set up a security cordon on the avenue.

Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, who visited the site, said the sticks of dynamite were old and had been found by a sniffer dog in a toilet on the third floor of the store's Men's Department building.

She also said that the dynamite sticks were not connected and lacked fuses, and could therefore not have exploded.

In the letter, the Afghan Revolutionary Front demanded that French President Nicolas Sarkozy "withdraw his troops from our country Afghanistan before the end of February 2009 or we will take action again in your big capitalist stores and this time without alerting you."

France currently has about 2,800 soldiers deployed in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban rebels.

The online edition of the weekly Le Point reported that police considered the incident a "serious warning," and were pursuing several lines of investigation, including someone acting alone or individuals from right-wing or left-wing extremist groups.

Terrorism experts noted that the letter did not contain the religious references usually made by Muslim terrorists in similar messages.

Alliot-Marie cautioned about taking the text of the letter too seriously. "We must be careful about the information in the letter, which could lead investigators on a false trail," she said.

In Strasbourg, Sarkozy confirmed to journalists that the explosives lacked a detonating system and said that police were in the process of analyzing the bombs and the letter.

"Vigilance in the face of terrorism is the only possible line to take," he said.

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