Chirac vows to hunt down train rampage gang

4th January 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 4 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac vowed Wednesday to bring to justice a gang that terrorised hundreds of train passengers in a long rampage of violence, robbery and sexual assault on New Year's Day.

PARIS, Jan 4 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac vowed Wednesday to bring to justice a gang that terrorised hundreds of train passengers in a long rampage of violence, robbery and sexual assault on New Year's Day.

The two-hour criminal frenzy by between 20 and 30 youths was "totally unacceptable," he told reporters in a traditional address to the media at the start of the year.

"Those guilty will be found and punished, as they deserve," he said.

The gang boarded the train, heading from Nice on the French Riviera to Lyon, in eastern France, early on January 1, as it carried 600 passengers home from New Year's Eve partying overnight.

Once inside, they went wild, forcing passengers to hand over mobile telephones and wallets, and slashing seats and breaking windows.

A 20-year-old woman cornered by several of the marauders was sexually molested.

Train staff alerted police, and the train pulled into a station to wait. The three officers who initially turned up had to wait for reinforcements before boarding, during which time the youths continued to wreak havoc.

"It was a real scene of pillage on the train," the regional state prosecutor, Dominique Luiggi, told reporters Monday.

The passengers were in a state of "panic," he said.

The train then resumed its journey with a heavy police presence on board but, just before Marseille, the youths pulled the emergency stop and escaped by running along the tracks.

Only three -- two 19-year-old Moroccans and a minor, all living in France -- were arrested. Both men were being held for robbery and one was also facing charges of sexual assault. The minor was to be judged separately.

Police said they believed the gang were part of a bigger group of 100 youths from the Marseille area who had gone to Nice and nearby seaside resorts for New Year's Eve, taking advantage of a special 1.20 euro (one dollar) New Year's Day train fare.

News of the violence shocked France, which was still reeling from three weeks of rioting that flared in impoverished suburbs across the country in late October and early November last year.

The opposition Socialist Party said in a statement that it viewed the incident with "astonishment".

It said "such acts show a worrying lack of security" and questioned why it took so long for police to rescue the passengers and why so few arrests were made.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who has championed hardline security policies in France, partly blamed the state rail company SNCF for not communicating better with the police.

"The problem is that law enforcement services didn't know that there was a promotional fare going," he said, adding that he would ask the SNCF to ensure that that did not happen again.

Police in Nice, meanwhile, said they had escorted the group of drunk youths and put them on the train to ensure they did not cause trouble in the city.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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