President Emmanuel Macron called the blast an “attack” during a live Facebook interview, adding that no deaths had been reported “for the time being”.
The area where the explosion occurred, on a narrow strip of land between the Saone and Rhone rivers in the historic centre of the southeast city, was evacuated and cordoned off by police, according to AFP journalists at the scene.
A police source told AFP the package contained “screws or bolts” and had been placed in front of a bakery near a busy corner of two popular streets.
A man apparently in his early 30s who was spotted near the scene shortly before the attack was being sought by police, a source close to the inquiry said.
Police said eight people were wounded but none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening.
– ‘Windows were blown out’ –
Macron, in his Facebook interview, said: “It’s not for me to give a toll but it appears there are no fatalities. There have been injuries, so obviously I’m thinking of these injured and their families.”
“An eight-year-old girl was wounded…. We’re fairly relieved because apparently there were no serious injuries but on the other hand, we are certain it was an explosive device,” said Denis Broliquier, mayor of the city’s Second Arrondissement.
He said the suspect sought by police had been seen on video surveillance cameras.
“There was an explosion and I thought it was a car crash,” said Eva, a 17-year-old student who was about 15 metres (50 feet) from the site of the blast.
“There were bits of electric wire near me, and batteries and bits of cardboard and plastic. The windows were blown out,” he said.
A terrorism probe has been opened by the Paris prosecutor’s office, which has jurisdiction over all terror cases in the country.
France has been on high alert following a wave of deadly jihadist terror attacks since 2015 which have killed more than 250 people.
“It’s an area in the very centre of Lyon, a major street,” the city’s deputy mayor in charge of security, Jean-Yves Secheresse, told BFM television.
“These areas are highly secured, the police are continually present,” as were patrols by soldiers deployed in a long-running anti-terror operation, he said.
Lyon is the third-biggest city in France. The population of the city plus its extensive suburbs is 2.3 million.
The most recent package bomb in France dates back to December 2007, when an explosion in front of a law office in Paris killed one person and injured another. Police never found who carried out that attack.