French police hunt suspect after Lyon bomb 'attack'

Forensic officers inspect the site of a suspected bomb attack in central Lyon, France May 24, 2019. - Reuters



By PIERRE PRATABUY

LYON
- Police in France were on Saturday hunting a suspect following a blast in a pedestrian street in the heart of the city of Lyon that wounded more than a dozen people just two days ahead of the country's hotly contested European Parliament elections.

President Emmanuel Macron called the explosion that happened Friday, apparently from a package packed with shrapnel, an "attack" and sent his interior minister, Christophe Castaner, to Lyon.

Police issued an appeal for witnesses on Twitter as they sought the suspect, a man believed to be in his early 30s on a mountain bicycle caught on security cameras in the area immediately before the explosion.

An image of the man, wearing light-colored shorts and a long-sleeved dark top, was posted. He was described as "dangerous".

The country's justice minister, Nicole Belloubet, told BFM television it was too soon to say whether the blast was a "terrorist act".

The number of wounded stood at 13 people, with 11 taken to hospitals. None of the injuries was life-threatening. The casualties comprised eight women, a 10-year-old girl, and four men.

A police source said the package contained "screws or bolts". It had been placed in front of a bakery near a busy corner of two popular streets at around 17:30 pm Friday, on a balmy spring evening.

The blast occurred on a narrow strip of land between the Saone and Rhone rivers in the historic center of the southeast city. The area was evacuated and cordoned off by police.

"There was an explosion and I thought it was a car crash," said Eva, a 17-year-old student who was about 15 meters from the site of the blast.

"There were bits of electric wire near me, and batteries and bits of cardboard and plastic. The windows were blown out," he said.

The attack upended last-minute campaigning ahead of the European Parliament vote on Sunday with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe cancelling his appearance at his centrist party's final rally Friday night.

A terrorism probe was opened by the Paris prosecutor's office, which has jurisdiction over all terror cases in the country. Interior Minister Christophe Castener was on his way to Lyon.

"I was working, serving customers, and all of a sudden there was a huge 'boom'," said Omar Ghezza, a baker who works nearby.

"We though it had something to do with renovation work. But in fact it was an abandoned package," he said. - AFP