Police suspect the fertilizer was indeed stolen as long ago as Easter weekend from the port of Honfleur (between the Seine Maritime, Calvados, and Eure departments, near the mouth of the Seine river), where large quantities of the material were stored without special protection.
Two unexploded bombs recently found on French commuter railway tracks were made with ammonium nitrate and a group calling itself AZF (for more on AZF, see here, here and here) claimed responsibility. Police in London seized more than a half ton of the substance in March during a raid on a suspected Islamic terrorist hideout. AZF also issued demands for millions of euros.
The name AZF may in fact be a reference to a chemical company that owned an ammonium nitrate factory in the south which exploded on September 21, 2001, killing 30.
In its last communication with the government, AZF said they were regrouping to develop greater capacity. Another group (or individual) calling themsel(ves)f the Mosvar Barayev commando, sent threatening letters to prime minister Raffarin and to the French embassies in Mali and Djibouti, and to five or six others. Authorities noted that the name Mosvar (a non-existent given name) is really spelled Movsar, for Movsar Barayev, the leader of the Chechen group that held a Moscow theater audience hostage in 2002. The spelling error was originally made by an English-language press service and widely repeated. The commander of Abu Sayaf also has claimed that there is no such group as the Mosvar Barayev commando. On March 17, proche-orient.info reported then Interior minister Sarkozy claimed that the letters in question were composed directly in French rather than translated from Arabic, perhaps definitively discrediting them.
Seventeen people (six women and 11 men) have gone on trial in Outreau (Pas-de-Calais), near Boulogne-sur-Mer, for "rape with torture" and "rape with barbaric acts." They are accused of gang-raping 18 children, aged three to 12 years. Some of the victims were allegedly raped by their own parents.
The accused vary in age from 24 to 67 and all of them deny the charges.
Prosecutors learned of the matter in December of 2000 when social services informed them that an unemployed couple might have been sexually abusing their own four children. The children told investigators that, once in foster care, they were again sexually abused, raped and made to watch pornography. The children also named neighbors. Police have seized sex toys and pornographic videos from the foster family's apartment. As part of an investigation, Police placed a court bailiff, his wife, a taxi driver and a priest under surveillance in 2001.
The investigation has netted 20 arrests. One suspect has committed suicide while in prison and another was declared unable to stand trial. The trial will call hundreds of witnesses and may last six weeks.
Just over the border in Arlon, Belgium, unemployed electrician Marc Dutroux, 47, is currently on trial with three other defendants, for for the kidnapping of six young girls, four of whom Dutroux is accused of murdering in particularly barbaric circumstances. Dutroux has denied the charges and blamed is ex-wife for the crimes.