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Petrochemical plant blasts in southern France deemed ‘malicious’

15 July 2015

Two explosions which sparked huge fires at a petrochemical plant at Berre-l'Etang near Marseille-Marignane airport are believed to have been the result of a "malicious act", sources close to the case told AFP. There were no casualties, but thick clouds of smoke was visible several kilometres away.

Stock image
Stock image

Two tanks full of petrol and naphtha - a flammable liquid distilled from petroleum - caught fire after the blasts at the plant, operated by the US-based LyondellBasell group.

The fire in the first tank of petrol was extinguished fairly quickly, but firefighters only managed to put out the second blaze by late morning using foam, local authorities said.

"The probability that these two fires in tanks 500 metres (1,640 feet) apart could be accidental is very low. Investigators are leaning towards the theory of a voluntary act," an informed source said. Prosecutors have opened a probe into the incident.

Asked whether there was any link with the theft earlier this month of explosives and detonators from a military base some 30 kilometres (19 miles) away, local official Jean-Marc Senateur said it was too early to tell.

Thieves broke into a vast army logistics base in Miramas overnight on July 5, stealing at least 150 detonators and a stock of plastic explosives.

The facility, which houses some 200 soldiers, is used to stockpile weapons for foreign missions, such as those in Africa. The thieves have still not been caught.

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