French police swoop on Paris riot town
Police said they had detained 33 of the 38 people on their target list during one of the biggest operations of its kind ever staged in France.
VILLIERS-LE-BEL, France, February 18, 2008 - Hundreds of French police,
including special forces, raided a troubled Paris suburb at dawn Monday to
round up suspected ringleaders of riots last year.
Police said they had detained 33 of the 38 people on their target list
during one of the biggest operations of its kind ever staged in France.
Members of the RAID special police force, led the operation on about 10
apartment blocks in Villiers-le-Bel and surrounding districts, north of the
capital, which was the focus of three nights of serious riots from November 25.
A column of armoured vehicles brought the police into the town under cover
While some guarded the building entrances, groups of 30 police then raided
each apartment, according to an AFP correspondent at the scene.
A special "anti-gang" armoured car, bullet- and firebomb-proof, was used as
the command centre as police headed for different apartments searching for
suspects and evidence.
"I have never seen a police operation of this scope," prosecutor
Marie-Therese de Givry told a press conference staged at the town's McDonald's
"I hope that the inhabitants will understand that we are there to
re-establish order and peace," she added.
Violence flared in Villiers-le-Bel and surrounding towns on November 25
after two teenagers died in a motorbike crash with a police car.
During three nights of rioting, some officers were hit by gunfire and the
clashes left 119 police officers injured, five seriously, according to justice
ministry figures. No figure has been given for casualties among the young
In December, police handed out leaflets in the area calling for witnesses
to the shots fired.
The leaflets offered rewards, going up to several thousand euros (dollars),
for information and said sources could remain anonymous.
Sources close to the inquiry, said at least three people came forward to
give information that pointed to the role of two brothers in Villiers-le-Bel.
President Nicolas Sarkozy said immediately after the riots that everything
would be done to find those responsible for the attacks. "That cannot rest
unpunished, it is an absolute priority," he said.
Tensions have run high in France's high-immigration suburbs since the
country's worst civil unrest in decades in 2005.
Sarkozy this month launched an aid programme for France's poor suburbs,
where the populations have a high proportion of African immigrants and where
youth unemployment runs around 40 percent.
But the president also vowed a "war without mercy" against crime.
Segolene Royal, the Socialist candidate who lost to Sarkozy in the
presidential election, criticised the raids as a "police operation for the
media" just before municipal elections in France.