Explosion at Jewish school spurs French security boost

NEW YORK — France has heightened security nationwide in the wake of a car bomb that exploded outside Lyon's largest Jewish school this week.

Across France, "more precautions" are being taken at buildings and schools, both Jewish and non-Jewish, as a result of the blast in the Lyon suburb of Villeurbane, said Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary general of the European Jewish Congress.

The blast occurred Thursday of last week, just minutes before the 700 pupils at Beth Menahem school were to be dismissed at 5 p.m., Cwajgenbaum said in an interview from his home in Paris.

The blast injured at least 14 people, one of them seriously.

"It was a miracle that only three young people were injured," he said of the attack in France's second largest city, located in southeastern France.

The school clock was apparently a couple of minutes late, which kept students from being outside the school when the bomb went off.

"As bad as this was, it could have been so much more tragic," said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.

He said some Argentine Jews pulled their children out of schools when they learned of the Lyon blast. Last year in Buenos Aires, a bomb went off at the Jewish community's headquarters, killing 86 and wounding at least 300.

The gas bomb, consisting of an explosive mixture placed in a canister filled with nails and bolts, was similar to those used in five previous bombings and attempted bombings in France since late July.

Four of those bombs went off on the streets of Paris. The fifth device found near Lyon did not ignite.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the latest bombing, but police suspected Algerian Muslim extremists. Algerian extremists have threatened France for backing the military government in Algeria, a former French colony.

More than 30,000 people have been killed in Algeria in clashes between security forces and Islamic militants since January 1992, when the army canceled national elections that the Islamic Salvation Front was poised to win.

French police reportedly detained for questioning a man seen running from the site of the attack before the bomb went off.

While the other attacks in France appeared aimed at creating terror in French society as a whole, this was the first attack targeting the French Jewish community.

The bomb outside the Jewish school shattered classroom windows, leaving glass shards in some of the children's hair, according to reports. The blast prompted teachers to have their students take cover on the floors of their classrooms.

Two parents waiting for their children outside the school, along with two owners of nearby shops, were among the injured.

Six people were hospitalized. Three children suffered smoke inhalation.

Both Cwajgenbaum and Steinberg said they thought the terrorist act was most likely linked to the recent string of bombings, rather than being an isolated attack by an Islamic fundamentalist group such as Hezbollah, whose attacks are predominantly aimed against Jews.

Cwajgenbaum said he had "no doubt" this week's bombing was tied to recent attacks and that by targeting a Jewish site, the perpetrators were seeking increased publicity.