A 33-year-old Tennessee man was arrested by uniformed Secret Service police yesterday after he placed a small satchel containing explosives in a wooded area near the French embassy in Northwest Washington.

According to a Secret Service spokesman, Jeffrey Ira Cohen was arrested and charged with assault with intent to commit murder and possession of an unregistered rifle and ammunition after the uniformed police observed him entering the woods near the embassy in the 2500 block of Belmont Street NW. He was carrying a small stachel and a rifle case and "acting in a suspicious manner." they said.

When the officers confronted Cohen in the woods, the spokesman said, Cohen resisted and then fell to the ground and attempted to light what appeared to be a fuze sticking out of the satchel.

After arresting Cohen and confiscating a 30.06 semiautomatic rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition, Secret Service police called in the District police bomb squad.

In the satchel, members of the bomb squad found three devices containing several pounds of explosive black powder, "enough to cause quite a bit of damage and maybe kill someone" the spokesman said.

Also in the satchel were several cigarette lighters, rounds of ammunition and rolled-up newspapers.

A spokesman for the French embassy said it received no bomb threats yesterday. "We don't know anything," he said. "We just know that the police arrested the guy . . . We don't know why he did it."

Police and Cohen, who refused to give an address and had no previous police record, also refused to tell them why he placed the explosives in the woods.

Cohen was being held yesterday evening at the 2nd District police headquarters for further questioning.