Fear returns to France as gunmen open fire on police
Marseille's police chief came under automatic gunfire yesterday morning on the day the prime minister was due to visit the southern French city to praise "excellent" progress in fighting crime.
Police chief Pierre-Marie Bourniquel came under Kalashnikov fire upon entering the housing estate of Castellane, in the north of the Mediterranean port, after locals reported gunshots.
Mr Bourniquel was travelling with a police commando and seeking to reach a high point overlooking the estate where Zinedine Zidane, the former international French footballer, was brought up, when his vehicle came under attack.
He had sounded the police siren while approaching the area, where armed clashes had reportedly erupted between at least two groups of "between five to 10 people" in what is thought to be a drug-related dispute.
"It's a real western," one police union spokesman told 'Le Figaro' newspaper.
Undaunted, the gunmen trained their fire on the police chief, who had to duck down on the car floor to avoid being hit. The bullets passed within two or three metres of the vehicle, according to 'Le Figaro'.
According to police sources cited, the initial shots were fired "in the air" and there are no victims.
Witnesses said the gunmen were "masked" and were "dressed in blue, like the police".
The violence comes after a 25-year-old man was shot dead in the estate on January 15 in an apparent drug-related killing.
A local school and nursery were shut and the estate's 7,000 residents told to stay indoors. A police helicopter flew overhead.
France has been tense since the Paris attacks in January in which Islamist gunmen killed 17 people, but there was no suggestion the Marseille incident had any religious connection.
Rather, it is thought the violence was part of a drug dealing turf war. "The drugs trade in Marseille - for cannabis and cocaine - can bring in €100,000 per month just for one housing estate," a police source told 'Le Figaro'.
According to France Info radio, the neighbourhood was calm in the early afternoon.
French prime minister Manuel Valls had been due in the city to laud "excellent" progress in fighting crime in Marseille, which has seen dozens of gangland murders and led to one prosecutor dubbing parts of the city as "like the favelas of Rio".
Several local politicians have called for the army to be sent to Marseille's toughest housing estates to tackle gangland violence. Mr Valls was due to announce extra means for local schools. (© Daily Telegraph, London)