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Group threatens attack on France railway
Updated: 2004-03-04 12:59

A previously unknown terror group has threatened to blow up French railroad tracks unless it is paid millions of dollars, authorities said Wednesday.

Information from the group led to the recovery on Feb. 21 of an explosive device buried in the bed of a railway line near Limoges in central France, the government said. The bomb would have been powerful enough to break a track, it said.

"We know nothing of this group but we are taking the threat seriously," Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said.

The government had earlier urged French and international media not to report the blackmail effort to protect efforts to contact the group. But the Interior Ministry released details about the threats in a statement Wednesday after the story leaked.

The group "has sent several letters demanding an important sum of money in exchange for neutralizing several bombs it says it has laid, notably under rail lines," the ministry's statement said.

Officials said the government received at least three letters in December and February threatening nine railway targets.

Police said the group threatened attacks unless it receives $4 million and euro1 million worth $1.2 million within days. Police do not believe the group has any connection to Islamic terror networks.

Two magistrates, including renowned anti-terror investigator Jean-Louis Bruguiere, are working the case. Bruguiere's previous successes include the imprisonment of infamous terrorist Carlos the Jackal.

The Interior Ministry said the group identifies itself as AZF the same initials as a chemical factory that exploded in southwestern France in 2001. Investigators believe that explosion, in which 30 people were killed, was accidental.

AZF "presents itself as a 'pressure group with terrorist characteristics,'" the ministry statement said.

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