EUROPE

Air Products: The firm targeted in suspected terrorist attack in France

The facility targeted in a suspected terror attack Friday in southeastern France is an American-owned industrial gas plant.

It was not immediately clear why the Air Products facility in the small town of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier was singled out.

Art George, a spokesman for the Allentown, Pa.-based company, declined to say whether any threats had been made against the firm or its employees, adding that French authorities had asked that all questions about the attack be referred to them.

French President Francois Hollande said there was no doubt that an explosion at the facility outside of the city of Lyon was a terrorist attack.

Two people were injured in the blast set off when a car was rammed into the plant, and a man's severed head was found hanging on a nearby fence.

French media reported that the beheaded man was the boss of a local transport company and the employer of a suspect arrested in connection with the attack.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and want to express our sympathies to the family of the victim of this unspeakable tragedy,” Air Products said in a statement.

Emergency services were deployed to the site and all those who work there were evacuated, the statement said.

Air Products officials said security had been increased at its operations around the world as a precautionary measure. The company has facilities in more than 50 countries employing more than 21,000 people.

Founded in 1940, Air Products is a Fortune 500 company, placing at no. 284 on this year's list ranking the largest U.S. corporations, with more than $10 billion in annual sales.

The company is one of the world's largest suppliers of industrial gas, breaking down air to form oxygen, nitrogen and other components used in construction, oil refining, healthcare and other industries. It also produces specialty chemicals for electronics companies and equipment used in the energy sector.

Its French subsidiary, created in 1990, employs about 400 people. It is described on the company's website as the third largest producer of atmospheric gases in France, with more than 15% of the market. [Link in French]

Seifi Ghasemi, a native of Iran, took over as chief executive of Air Products last summer, replacing John McGlade after a protracted battle with billionaire investor William Ackman, who had complained that the company was trailing its competitors.

"This incident reinforces that we all need to take safety and security very seriously, every day, and remain vigilant in everything we do," Ghasemi said in a statement Friday. "I am very glad to know that all of our employees are safe and accounted for.”

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

2:46 p.m.: This article was updated with comment from the Air Products chief executive officer.

This article was originally published at 12:15 p.m.

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