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Abandoned Car Packed With Gas Canisters Sparks Terrorism Probe In France


Four people are being held and questioned in France after a car filled with gas canisters was found in a Paris neighborhood popular with tourists. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports authorities believe the car may have been part of an attack that was being planned.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The mid-size Peugeot sedan was discovered around 3 a.m. Sunday. It was parked on a small, left-bank street just across the Seine River from Notre Dame Cathedral. Bartender Stephan Alves, who was working late that night, called the police. He told French television, he and his colleagues were alarmed by what they saw.


STEPHAN ALVES: (Through interpreter) The fact that there were no license plates on the car and that its hazard lights were flashing and that after an hour no one came back to get it, we really began to worry.

BEARDSLEY: Police found seven cooking gas canisters in the car. An empty one lay on the front seat. The others were in the trunk. Five were full. No detonator was found, but French media, this morning, are reporting there were three cans of diesel fuel, which analysts say is a key component of rudimentary bomb making.

Early Wednesday morning, authorities arrested a couple at a rest stop along a highway in southern France who knew the owner of the car. Both the 29-year-old woman and the 34-year-old man, say police, are known to authorities for having, quote, "radical Islamist leanings." A second couple in their mid-20s was also arrested overnight. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve reminded the country that it's at high risk for another attack.

MINISTER OF THE INTERIOR BERNARD CAZENEUVE: (Through interpreter) Since the beginning of the year, we've arrested more than 260 people. Most of them had been planning some sort of attack.

BEARDSLEY: In the last year and a half, more than 200 people have been killed in terrorist attacks in France.

JACQUES DI BONA: (Speaking in French).

BEARDSLEY: Jacques Di Bona is the former head of a police anti-terror unit. He says it is not clear if the car was part of a planned attack because, usually, if you plan a car bomb, you try to make sure it isn't discovered. Di Bona says you also need a detonator and have to fill the canisters with nails or bolts to serve as shrapnel.

The head of France's intelligence services recently warned that terrorists targeting France are going to step up the use of car bombs. He said such attacks would cause large numbers of casualties without sacrificing suicide bombers. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.