Terrorism is threatening a political crisis at home and in the Middle East for France. After the worst attack yet, an explosion Wednesday in a department store in Paris that killed five and wounded more than 50, Prime Minister Jacques Chirac looks powerless to stop the violence that has killed nine people and injured more than 200 this year.
A group calling itself the ``Committee for Solidarity with Arab and Middle Eastern Political Prisoners'' has claimed responsibility for the violence in France. But many French officials and political analysts believe the attacks are too sophisticated to be the work of a small group of extremists. According to this theory, a government must be playing a role in training, encouraging, or even controlling the group's actions.
Many also find hard to believe the claim that the terrorists only want to liberate their alleged leader, Georges Ibrahim Abdallah. They suggest that the broader motivation of the group's backers is to reduce French support for Iraq in its war with Iran or to thwart the continued presence of French troops among the UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon.
In this view, the assasination Thursday of the French military attach'e in Beirut, the recent attacks against the French soldiers in south Lebanon, and the continued detention of seven French hostages all are part of a concerted attack.
``Certainly, all the facts don't show that these attacks are the work of the same orchestra leader,'' commented the daily Le Monde in a front page editorial Thursday. ``But they aim at the same goal: the elimination of France from the region and its humiliation.''
Who would want the French out? Analysts here point to Syria or Iran. They say Syria has made no secret of its goal to establish a protectorate in Lebanon. The Syrians, they say, played a part in the assasination of a French ambassador to Beirut: Louis Delamarre, in 1981.
Iran would seem to have even better reasons for adding pressure, these analysts say. Its talks with France about normalizing relations have reached a critical stage. In return for concessions on a bank loan and possibly the reduction of French support for Iraq, the Iranians are being asked to exert pressure on Lebanese groups attacking French soldiers and holding their hostages.
Combatting terrorism is proving difficult. Despite the imposition earlier this week of a series of emergency measures, French police seem to have made little progress tracking down the terrorists.
Officials around Mr. Chirac acknowledge that it will take time to achieve results. But so far, the public has rallied around the government's efforts.
But the terrorists have threatened more violence, and a feeling of public fear is becoming perceptible. Police crews have been checking out report after report of suspicious looking packages.
In political terms, this growing apprehension is threatening Prime Minister Chirac. He is on the front line, as President Fran,cois Mitterrand is visiting Indonesia. On Thursday, Chirac again spoke on television, threatening the terrorists with a retaliation if they are caught.
Philippe Moreau Defarges, of the Institute of Foreign Relations, says, ``Fighting terrorism takes a long time. But this government needs quick results.''