French police arrested a number of people Tuesday suspected of having taken part in a coordinated series of attacks on the country's high-speed rail network that left thousands of commuters stranded and saw one train plough through two concrete slabs at 150 kph (90 mph).
The police stated that those arrested are believed to belong to a far-left anarchist group waging protests against nuclear waste that was being transported from France to the Gorleben radioactive waste storage site in northwest Germany, according to the BBC.
In Germany, these protests saw 16,000 policebattle an estimated 15,000 protesters, who succeeded in causing a 20-hour delay in the shipment of 123 tons of radioactive waste.
The arrests were carried out in three cities by members of France's anti-terrorist police force. In a statement, France's interior ministry said Tuesday that several hundred officers from the domestic intelligence service and anti-terror police had been monitoring members of the "anarcho-autonomous" movement for months.
Although 20 people were initially arrested in the raids, only 10 remain in custody, according to the BBC.
"These individuals are characterized by a total rejection of any democratic expression of political opinion and an extremely violent tone," Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told reporters, according to Reuters.
Alliot-Marie confirmed statements from the government and SNCF, France's national railway operator, that the attacks appeared to be coordinated acts of sabotage, stating: "Indications collected on the group allowed us to establish connections between the sites."
The interior minister also stated that investigators had "found that this ultra-left movement has links in five European countries" -- including Belgium, Germany, Italy and Greece -- "and in other non-European countries," according to the AFP.
The AFP also quoted a source close to the investigation as saying that anti-terrorist officials were examining "possible links between the suspects and the German hard-left, which has claimed responsibility for actions against trains carrying nuclear waste."
A spokesman from Germany's Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) told SPIEGEL ONLINE late Tuesday that his office had yet to be contacted about possible connections between the groups that allegedly carried out the attacks in France and those responsible for blocking the progress of trains carrying nuclear waste in Germany.
Sophisticated & Coordinated Attacks
The four attacks on Saturday involved sabotaging high-speed TGV lines by hooking metal bars on overhead 25,000-volt power cables. The attacks took place on lines north, east and south of Paris, causing sudden and widespread delays in traffic national traffic, Eurostar services to Brussels and London, and on Thalys routes to the Netherlands and northern Europe. Over 20,000 passengers were delayed and 160 trains disrupted as a result of the attacks, according to the SCNF.
In a separate and possibly related attack on Sunday, saboteurs placed two concrete slabs across railway tracks near the southern French town of Narbonne. The train, which was estimated to be travelling at 150 kph when it met the slabs, sustained some damage but remained on the tracks and arrived in Perpignan only an hour behind schedule. No passengers were injured.
The arrests brought relief to unions representing railway workers. Owing to the high degree of technical knowledge and familiarity needed to carry out attacks on the high-tension power cables, there had been suspicions that a railway employee might have been involved in the attacks.
Attacks on trains have been a perennial source of fear in France. In February 2004, French authorities found and safely detonated a home-made bomb planted on a railway line north of Lomiges. The bomb was linked to a group that had threatened to bomb the railways if they were not given $5 million (€3.93 million) in ransom. Other attacks have been threatened by Basque separatist guerrillas and militant trade unionists.
More recently, thousands of passengers in western France had to deal with long delays and cancellation on Nov. 1 after overhead power lines were apparently shot by vandals.
jtw -- with wire reports