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AZF (French initialism for AZote Fertilisant, i.e. nitrogen fertiliser) was the name of a chemical factory in Toulouse, France, which exploded on 21 September 2001. The blast was equivalent to 20-40 tons of TNT, measuring 3.4 on the Richter scale, and was heard 80 km away (50 miles). The incident resulted in 29 deaths and left 2,500 wounded. Damages paid by insurance companies exceeded 1.5 billion euros.
Although authorities initially treated the incident as an accident, the then Environment Minister speculated that the explosion may have been "a terrorist attack" in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The body of a worker known to harbor Islamic fundamentalist sympathies was found in the blast and investigated, although official investigation found the blast to be accidental. In spring of 2004, a terrorist group adopted the same name and threatened the French government with bombings.
Toulouse chemical factory explosion
|Date||21 September 2001|
|Type||Explosion (~20–30 tons of TNT)|
|Cause||Sodium dichloroisocyanurate and ammonium nitrate mishandling and reaction|
Three hundred tonnes of ammonium nitrate was stored (the maximum capacity was 2,000 tonnes) in hangar #221. The whole factory was destroyed making a crater with a depth about 7 m (23 ft) and a diameter of 40 m (131 ft); steel girders were found 3 km away from the explosion. The blast measured 3.4 on the Richter scale, with an estimated power equivalent to 20-40 tons of TNT. The explosion was heard 80 km away (50 miles). Due to the acoustics of the hills and the large sound, the explosion was reported as occurring in multiple places. Police at first believed that at least five bombs had simultaneously gone off. There is still controversy over the exact number of explosions.
The factory was close to the city: one of the most inhabited areas, Le Mirail, is just one kilometre away (0.6 miles). Several schools, one university campus, one hospital and a psychiatric hospital had to be evacuated.
The disaster caused 29 deaths (28 from the factory, 1 secondary school pupil from a neighbouring school), about 30 seriously wounded, and 2,500 light casualties. Two thirds of the city's windows were shattered, causing 70 eye wounds. The complete environmental consequences of the catastrophe are not yet fully known. The total damages paid by insurance groups currently exceed 1.5 billion euros.
On 4 October 2001, France's then Environment Minister Yves Cochet announced that the explosion "may have been a terrorist attack" (the explosion occurred in the weeks following the September 11 attacks) and identified Hassan Jandoubi, a plant sub-contractor killed in the blast, as a person under investigation. French anti-terrorist authorities were prohibited by the Toulouse prosecutor from searching Jandoubi's house for five days after the incident.
Police declared that Jandoubi had "possible Islamic fundamentalist sympathies," yet by the time the search was finally conducted, they alleged that Jandoubi's girlfriend had disposed of all traces of his clothes or photos. French authorities described the delay as damaging to the investigation.
- Barthelemy, Francois; Hornus, Henri; Roussot, Jacques; Hufschmitt, Jean-Paul; Raffoux, Jean-Francois (24 October 2001), Report of the General Inspectocorate [sic] for the Environment: Accident on the 21st of September 2001 at a factory belonging to the Grande Paroisse Company in Toulouse (PDF)
- Barbier, Pascal (2003), Urban Growth Analysis Within a High Technological Risk Area: Case of AZF Factory Explosion in Tolouse (France), Ecole Nationale des Sciences Géographiques
- government report (archive)
- Paul Seabright What Explosion? London Review of Books Nov 1 2001
- Paul Seabright AZF: L'enquête assassinée AZF:l'enquête assassinée
- Anti-Terror probe into French blast Archived 2007-11-03 at the Wayback Machine. CNN Oct 4 2001
- Explosion in France may have been Terrorism Archived 2007-12-16 at the Wayback Machine. The Michigan Daily Oct 5 2001
- Terrorism link to French explosion The Guardian Oct 5 2001
- (in French) Daniel Dissy : "AZF-Toulouse, Quelle vérité ?", 2006, ISBN 2-915681-30-9, Library of Congress Control No : 2007370387.
- (in French) Franck Hériot & Jean-Christian Tirat : "AZF: L'enquête assassinée",Plon. ISBN 978-2-259-20824-6
- (in French) Daniel Dissy : "AZF, l'Enquête secrète - Le Mystère de la Trace Noire ou comment AZF a explosé", éditions des Traboules, Paris, 2009, ISBN 2-915681-99-6.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Usine AZF de Toulouse.|
- (in French) Unofficial AZF website
- (in English) AZF -a judicial fiasco ? (French News, 8.Oct.2008)
- (in French) AZF: L'enquête assassinée
- (in French) Le Dossier AZF by Daniel Dissy