UPI reports that the explosions at the Berre-l’Etang refinery complex at 3am, France time, were done on purpose (crime for sure, terrorism suspected) and might have been initiated by electronic devices. Investigators are looking into the matter after finding what appeared to have been detonators at the scene. The refinery is located 10 miles northwest of Marseille.
The targets were massive storage tanks containing naphtha, a flammable petroleum product.
The BBC says that the two tanks that exploded belong to the company, LyondellBasell, which has headquarters in the Netherlands and the United States. The same BBC report says a detonator type device was found at a third tank, but it did not explode. It moreover said the attack might have been linked to the recent pilfering of explosives at a nearby French Army (Armée de terre) base in Miramas.
The Miramas base provides logistics for France’s international military operations. France24 news outlet reports that security at the base was exceedingly light and that the thieves cut through a fence line and stole 40 grenades and 180 detonators.
Investigators are looking into the possibility that these events were linked and carried out by terrorists, which at this stage is a strong possibility in light of recent Islamist jihadist attacks in January 2015 and in 2014 (see partial list below.) France has also been subject to regular threats by groups such as al Qaeda, ISIS, and their franchises. If terrorism is indeed the case here, and if there are military grade explosives in the hands of a hostile party, then additional attacks in France are likely, and summer tourist targets cannot be ruled out.
Sources and additional reading:
“France explosions: Devices found near Berre-L’Etang plant,” BBC, 15 July, 2015
“French police investigate chemical plant explosions,” UPI, 15 July 2015.
Recent terror attacks in France – partial list:
“Man rams van into Christmas market in western France,” The Telegraph, 22 December 2014.