France hunts bus arsonists who set woman on fire

30th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 30, 2006 (AFP) - The French government Monday launched an intensive hunt for a gang of youths who horrified the country by setting a woman on fire during a weekend arson attack on a bus.

PARIS, Oct 30, 2006 (AFP) - The French government Monday launched an intensive hunt for a gang of youths who horrified the country by setting a woman on fire during a weekend arson attack on a bus.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy vowed everything would be done to catch the perpetrators who attacked the bus in the southern city of Marseille on Saturday night.

A 26-year-old Senegalese postgraduate student who was trapped on the bus after two hooded teenagers doused it with petrol and set it alight was Monday in hospital on the verge of death, with burns to 70 percent of her body.

The attack was the worst incident in an surge of urban violence over the weekend that coincided with the first anniversary of the riots that shook France last year.

Sarkozy said the two arsonists and at least one other gang member who remained outside the bus would be brought to justice and made examples of.

"Believe me, we will find them," he said after an emergency meeting with Villepin and transport chiefs.

"This is a promise I made to the family" of the woman, Mama Galledou, Sarkozy said. "And this promise will be kept."

Villepin said he would be proposing a government bill which would criminalise "all those who participate in an ambush," and not just those who directly employ violence, and which would haul arrested minors immediately before a judge.

He also urged all witnesses to the Marseille attack to come forward, and offered them anonymity if they chose, so that the arsonists could be "brought before the courts."

Police in Marseille were Monday questioning youths in the area where the attack took place, but said they had few leads so far. The bus's video was destroyed in the fire.

The fact the attackers fled on foot suggested to investigators they lived in the neighbourhood.

"We're going all out. Thirty to 35 investigators are at work, and all the crime squad is on this," Marseille state prosecutor Jacques Beaume said.

President Jacques Chirac on Sunday telephoned the family of the victim to express his "horror at this despicable act". Other politicians and officials echoed the sentiment.

The hospital treating the woman said it was uncertain that she would survive. She was on artificial respiration and in an artificial coma in a burns clinic. Her parents were due to arrive from Senegal on Monday to be with her.

Gelledou was on the bus with some 10 other passengers when it was forcibly boarded by the two teenagers wearing hoods while a third stood outside. They doused the inside of the vehicle with flammable liquid and set it on fire before running away.

Although the driver and other passengers escaped in time, the woman was unable to do so.

A witness, who gave his first name as Alain, told AFP that he vomited after seeing the result.

"Her skin, it looked like gloves had been taken off her... She's a black woman and her skin had been burned white... and she had nylon trousers -- you know what happens when nylon melts?" he said, his voice becoming hoarse.

Marseille bus drivers refused to return to work Sunday following the attack, and on Monday counterparts in the French Riviera city of Nice followed suit for two hours out of solidarity. All were back behind the wheel later Monday.

Two hundred extra riot police were being deployed to Marseille following the attack.

Elsewhere in France, reinforcements were also standing by after the weekend wave of violence.

According to police, nine buses were torched across the country last week, seven of them in the Paris area, by hooded or masked youths, some of whom were armed, though no other serious casualties have been reported.

Scores of parked cars have also been incinerated, and overnight Sunday, youths threw a stone from a bridge on a tram in the eastern city of Grenoble, smashing the window and injuring the driver.

Some 30 cars were torched in nearby Lyon the same night.

Scores of arrests have been made in scattered skirmishes with police, and several officers were slightly hurt.

The violence recalled the three weeks of riots that raged in mostly poor French suburbs a year ago -- the worst civil strife the country has seen in four decades.

Then, gangs of youths, most of them from families of African and Arab origin living in marginalised neighbourhoods, torched more than 10,000 cars and firebombed 300 buildings in around 275 towns.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article