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Official: French blast may have been terrorism

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 5, 2001

TOULOUSE, France -- A chemical plant explosion that killed 29 people last month might have been a terrorist attack, France's environment minister said Thursday. But judicial officials say they favor the theory that it was an accident.

Environment Minister Yves Cochet's comments followed news reports that a man found dead at the site in Toulouse was known to police for possible Islamic fundamentalist sympathies and was involved in altercations before the blast with workers displaying the American flag in sympathy with victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"A new piece of information reached us today which shows that there might have been a terrorist origin" to the blast, Cochet said on LCI television. "We are not ruling out any hypothesis, including that of an accident." Cochet did not elaborate on what the new information was, and his ministry did not return calls for comment.

Last week, Toulouse's prosecutor, who is leading the investigation, said he was "99 percent" certain that the Sept. 21 explosion at the AZF chemical fertilizer plant was accidental.

The police refused to comment on news reports quoting their officials as saying that victim Hassan Jandoubi, 35, a French national born in Tunisia, had raised suspicions.

Le Parisien newspaper quoted an investigator as saying it took five days to get permission to search Jandoubi's apartment, a delay that "spoiled" the investigation. The apartment had been cleaned out, said the investigator, who was not identified.

Investigating magistrates visited the explosion site on Tuesday. Police are still questioning employees.

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