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Marseille grafitti in an immigrant housing complex of la Castellane. Photo: Yohann Libot

Marseille officers flee crime scene because of ‘guerrilla warfare’

Three officers were questioning suspects in the immigrant neighborhood of Castellane when they were attacked.

Published: September 4, 2020, 6:37 am

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    “We were very lucky,” one of the law enforcement officers said. After being assaulted, with two of his colleagues, on Sunday, August 30, the Marseille policeman believed he had escaped death, he told RTL.

    The three officers were intervening in the neighborhood of Castellane in the former Phocaean city, when they were assaulted. “We quickly found ourselves surrounded by ten, fifteen and then twenty people, after we had just handcuffed the drug pusher,” he explained. The suspect’s associates tried to “free” him and started throwing heavy objects at the policemen, including “a mountain bike, a petanque ball, a shutter, tables, chairs, glass bottles, a dagger and two pitbulls.”

    Members of the security forces ended up escaping the situation with the help of a tear gas canister. “We were very lucky,” the policeman said. And added: “If we’re hit by such heavy objects on the head, it is paralysis or death.”

    For him, “these are not riots, they are scenes of urban guerrilla warfare”. The officer was injured in the eye by a shard from a bottle. One of the three officers, overwhelmed by his attackers landing countless kicks and projectiles on him, finally fired a shot in the air. That was enough to repel the attackers, but for only about thirty seconds.

    “We had stayed like that for about five minutes, we held out as long as possible, with the dealer’s bag which contained more than three kilos of drugs, but at one point, we looked at each other: we had to leave”, continued Eric, the policeman who spoke to RTL. He continued: “It ended with two police officers running around the city and some thirty people chasing them with iron bars.”

    The neighborhood is plagued by unemployment, drug trafficking, prostitution and arms smuggling. French newspapers call the area a “supermarket” for illegal drugs.

    Mainly immigrants from Morocco moved to La Castellane, followed by others from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. It is now home to about 7 000 residents, many of whom are second-generation French citizens.

    In the first round of the 2017 presidential election, the 15th arrondissement in Marseille, voted 27 percent for Marine Le Pen, the FN candidate. This support for Le Pen in French neighborhoods around La Castellane reflects the tensions between ethnically European and immigrant populations living in Marseille and throughout France.

    Because of the lack of integration of immigrants into mainstream French society, many living in La Castellane do not identify as French. In fact, it has become a national phenomenon: the social divisions between immigrant areas like la Castellane and mainstream France are obvious in local and national politics.

    Gangs primarily sell cannabis and cocaine. It is estimated that drug-traffickers in La Castellane make between 50 000 and 60 000 euros per day. According to former French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, drug-trafficking is being used to fund terrorism on French soil.

    In 2015, French police arrested 33 suspected drug traffickers, including Socialist Senator Samia Ghali’s chauffeur, as well as weapons and several kilograms of drugs.

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