Cars have been damaged, businesses looted and a fire has destroyed an Aldi store in the northern districts of the city of Blois. A gendarmerie helicopter had to be deployed in the capital of the Loir-et-Cher département, in central France.
Images such as these have become common in France, although not in smaller cities. On the night of Tuesday March 16 to Wednesday March 17, violent rioters set fire to the northern districts of the city, a few hours after a serious accident involving three vehicles, which left four injured, two of whom were serious, reported regional daily La Nouvelle République. The circumstances of the tragedy have yet to be clarified, but it seems that everything started from the refusal of a motorist to stop at a police inspection point. He was then chased by the police, before hitting two other cars.
According to an LCI journalist present on the spot, 150 rioters attacked the police during the night, in retaliation. One of them even got behind the wheel of a delivery truck and ran into a group of officials.
“We are facing a system of urban violence,” said the police chief of the department, François Pesneau, present alongside the many police forces and firefighters. “Many vehicles were burned and a fire started on the side of the Aldi store,” he told La Nouvelle République.
During the night, the magistrate specified: “We are in the process of mobilizing the troops and calling for police reinforcements, from the BAC of Tours, Orléans and Le Mans.” A gendarmerie helicopter was also deployed shortly after midnight. The police chief then announced the arrival of a “squadron of the mobile gendarmerie of Paris” as well as the GIGN in order to “strike hard to quickly put an end to these developments”.
The GIGN [Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale] is the elite police tactical unit of the French National Gendarmerie. Its missions include counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, surveillance of national threats, protection of government officials, and targeting organized crime. It is headquartered in Versailles-Satory near Paris. Although most of its operations take place in France, the unit, as a component of the French Armed Forces, can operate anywhere in the world. Many of its missions are secret, and members are not allowed to be publicly photographed. It it one of the most experienced counter-terrorism units in the world.
On social networks, many Internet users have described a situation of “war” or a “jungle”. Some have gone so far as to draw a comparison with the video game GTA, which features thugs braving the police and committing numerous criminal acts. The inhabitants of the district also denounced the burglaries and looting of a business.
The new Aldi store had only opened a few days ago, but African and Arab youths looted, ransacked and set it on fire. Curiously, it is the same people who will complain about the lack of local shops.
The unimaginable scenes of guerrilla warfare and looting were accompanied by sounds of explosions and screams in the city of Louis XII with 46 086 inhabitants today that has its immigrant “districts” to the north.
During a press conference, held at Wednesday noon in Blois, the public prosecutor François Chevallier and Pesneau detailed the circumstances. “It all started at 6.30 pm Tuesday night, with a car visibly going too fast. The Blois anti-crime brigade (BAC) wanted to control the driver, who did not comply,” state officials explained. “A chase took place in the streets, with the driver taking a lot of risks. The police finally decided to stop the pursuit but, a few meters further on, when a red traffic light is once again ignored, the vehicle collided with another car and ended up on its roof,” the two senior officials pointed out.
The driver managed to escape, but his two passengers, an 18-year-old and a 16-year-old minor, were trapped in the carcass of the car, both injured. Both were transported to hospital emergency rooms. The condition of the youngest, very seriously injured, was a cause for concern on Wednesday. Both individuals, the authorities finally indicated, are known to the police and the judiciary for criminal offences.
The accident sparked the riot with most serious incident taking place at around 11 pm when a stolen delivery truck tried to ram security forces. Police fired at the truck and only then, after a total of twelve shots in order to block the momentum, did the truck stop. The occupants of the truck ran away, leaving it to finish its charge but without further damage.
Three investigations have been opened: one for an aggravated refusal to comply, entrusted to the departmental public security directorate of Loir-et-Cher; the other for urban violence, managed by the same service; the last for an attempted voluntary homicide on a person in authority and aggravated theft of the truck, led by the judicial police of Orléans and Tours.
An investigation published in Le Parisien meanwhile compiled the testimonies of police officers confronted with the explosion of violence among young people of immigrant origin. For many it is linked to the consequences of the health crisis.
In recent weeks, various facts have multiplied throughout France, increasingly involving young African and Arab adolescents. Several of them were even killed during brawls of great violence, in Champigny-sur-Marne or Argenteuil. This kind of violence is increasingly making headlines, and it primarily concerns law enforcement and judicial personnel, on the front line.
Le Parisien compiled a number of alarming testimonies on violence among very young people. “We seize a lot of weapons. Some pretend to limp while walking with crutches which they use in brawls,” a police officer in Juvisy-sur-Orge (Essonne) explained. “We have the impression that it is the weekend or school holidays permanently at the moment because so many young people loiter at the bottom of the high-rise towers doing nothing,” another officer remarked and added that “the violence they display is more than before, but it is difficult to quantify”.
In fact, the phenomenon of clashes between gangs has experienced real progress in recent years. According to the Interior Ministry, 375 such clashes took place in 2020, against 288 in 2019. It is an increase of nearly 25 percent in one year, with the figures for the first months of 2021 already up. “With the curfew, some therefore meet in the evening to smoke shisha next to buildings. In addition to not respecting sanitary measures, it creates nuisances,” said the officers.
“This violence existed in some places, but the Covid crisis is an aggravating factor and we have seen violence occur in peri-urban municipalities so far relatively spared,” said the officer in charge of mission at the union of Internal Security Executives. And in addition to the violence and the daily insecurity that these young people cause in the cities of France, they do not seem at all concerned by the health measures which regulate the lives of the French: “In any case, even when we simply come to talk to them, we must not address the theme of the mask, barrier measures or the pandemic, because they tell us that it is government nonsense to muzzle the population.”