French anti-terrorist police were questioning three people including an amateur pilot and an antiques dealer in connection with a series of bomb threats and demands for money made by a mysterious group calling itself AZF.
Specialists who have examined the letters and a series of messages placed in the personal columns of Liberation newspaper believe one of the blackmailers may be a former soldier.
This suspicion is strengthened by the professionalism of the first bomb — which included a complicated timing device — as well the group’s familiarity with GPS satellite technology for fixing the location of its proposed ransom drops.
The three, who also include the pilot’s girlfriend, were detained on Thursday evening at locations in Paris and in the Loiret department, 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the capital, which was the scene of a failed ransom drop on March 1. According to police, the suspects have been under surveillance after being spotted near points specified by AZF in its communications with the government — notably an airfield at Lognes in the eastern Paris outskirts which was proposed for a second abortive drop on March 12. On both occasions the government was responding to instructions from AZF for the handing over of several million euros in cash, though it remains unclear whether it was serious about paying the money or trying to lure AZF members into a trap.