LYON, France (AFP) — Police in France were on Saturday hunting a suspect following a blast in a pedestrian street in the heart of Lyon that lightly wounded 13 people two days ahead of hotly contested European Parliament elections.
President Emmanuel Macron called the Friday evening explosion, from a package believed to have been packed with shrapnel, an “attack” and sent interior minister Christophe Castaner to Lyon.
Police issued an appeal for witnesses on Twitter as they sought the man believed to be in his early 30s, who was picked up by security cameras on a mountain bicycle immediately before the explosion.
An image of the suspect, wearing light-colored shorts and a long-sleeved dark top, was posted. He was described as “dangerous.”
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Justice minister Nicole Belloubet told BFM television it was too soon to say whether the blast was a “terrorist act.”
The case was nonetheless handed to the Paris prosecutor for anti-terrorism that deals with all terrorist cases.
The number of wounded stood at 13 people, with 11 taken to hospitals. None of the injuries was life-threatening but included eight women and a 10-year-old girl as well as 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 crowded streets at around 5:30 p.m. (1530 GMT).
District mayor Denis Broliquier said “the charge was too small to kill,” and an administrative source told AFP it was a “relatively weak explosive charge” that was triggered at a distance.
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 (50 feet) from the blast site.
“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 France’s 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.
“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.
France has been on high alert following a wave of deadly jihadist terror attacks since 2015 which have killed more than 250 people.
“It’s an area in the very center of Lyon, a major street,” the city’s deputy mayor in charge of security, Jean-Yves Secheresse, told BFM television.
“These areas are highly secured, the police are continually present,” as were patrols by soldiers deployed in a long-running anti-terror operation, he said.
Lyon is the third-biggest city in France with extensive suburbs and a population of 2.3 million.
The most recent package bomb in France dates back to December 2007, when an explosion in front of a law office in Paris killed one person and injured another. Police never found who carried out that attack.