PARIS (AP) _ Crudely made fire bombs may have caused the explosions in two big department stores filled with Christmas holiday shoppers that injured 39 people, 12 of them seriously, authorities said Sunday.
This led to speculation that the attacks Saturday may have been the work of a disgruntled, or unstable, individual, rather than any known terrorist group.
Both Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, lavishly decorated for the Christmas season, were filled with shoppers when the attacks came shortly before 6 p.m.
The two stores are next to each other on the Boulevard Haussmann in the city’s crowded, commercial ninth district, not far from the Paris Opera.
Dr. Francis Roy, who headed the rescue effort, said 25 people were treated and released following the blasts and 14 remained hospitalized Sunday, all but two of them seriously burned.
Police said claims of responsibility for the blasts included ones allegedly on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Front headed by Mohammed Abbas, also known as Abul Abbas; the Islamic Jihad, or Islamic Holy War organization, and the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, known as ASALA.
The United States has accused Abbas, whose whereabouts are unknown, of masterminding the Oct. 7-9 hijacking of the Italian liner Achille Lauro.
However, in a statement telephoned to The Associated Press office in Baghdad, Iraq, an anonymous caller, identifying himself as an ″official source″ of Abbas’ faction of the PLF, said the group had ″no connection whatsoever with the two blasts in Paris.″
The Palestine Liberation Organization’s Paris representative, Ibrahim Sousse, condemned the attack, as did the National Armenian Movement, politically close to the branch of ASALA known as ASALA-Revolutionary Movement.
Informed sources said Sunday that initial laboratory tests of fragments found at the two blast sites indicated that jerrycans containing gasoline or another flammable liquid caused the explosions. The sources, who spoke on condition they not be identified, said a weak fuse with a crude time device, possibly an alarm clock, could have been attached to the jerrycans.
French news media speculated that the attacks were isolated incidents, the work of one person, perhaps mentally unstable and without a political motive.
The blasts - the first in the basement dishware center at Galeries Lafayette, the second at the ground floor perfume counter at Printemps - produced a flasH of flames, according to witness accounts.
A salesgirl in the umbrella section at Printemps said she heard a ″loud boom″ then saw flames reaching to the ceiling followed by thick black smoke.
″I saw my boss rolling on the ground and a man in flames who was turning around like a top,″ she told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Jean-Marc Gely, the Printemps marketing director, said the device which caused the explosion was in a sack lying on a counter. The sack was suspiciously heavy and store security was summoned to inspect it. The sack exploded in a flash of flames, injuring two security officials, among others.
Hundreds of police converged on the area, evacuating the two stores and others in the area, including the British Marks and Spencer, target of an attack last February which killed one person and injured 14.
A security net was clamped on sensitive points around Paris, including the National Assembly, embassies and the Parc des Princes sports arena.
An anonymous caller to the French news agency Agence Central de Presse had warned there would be a third explosion at the arena, where a soccer match was being played. The caller said he represented the Palestine Liberation Front.
Police searched the stadium but found nothing, and the game proceeded normally.