The French police cordoned off a housing estate in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille after hooded gunmen opened fire on a police car. The gunmen are said to have used Kalashnikov rifles in the attack which came hours before the Prime Minister Manuel Valls was supposed to visit the city. A senior local official suggested that the incident was related to drug crime.
“There were shots fired in the direction of a police vehicle coming from hooded individuals armed with Kalashnikovs,” local police chief Pierre-Marie Bourniquel told Reuters.
The La Castellane area of the city which is notorious for being the hot spot of drug trafficking is often home to clashes between rival drug mafias. The local police, therefore, attribute the gunshots to such clashes and not a terrorist attack.
“It isn’t the first time,” Samia Ghali, a senator from Marseille told French television BFM TV. “This district has been hijacked.”
“It’s got everything — prostitution, drugs trafficking, violence. It’s a dangerous cocktail and we saw evidence of that today,” Ghali told BFMTV.
Ironically, the attack came just before the Prime Minister arrived in the city to hail statistics showing a fall in crime in France’s second largest city. There was no information on whether there had been victims.
However, the deputy Mayor of the city Caroline Pozmentier, said the authorities were “99.9% sure” the incident was related to drugs and score-settling, adding that she did not see a link with Valls’ visit.
“This battle against drug trafficking is a long-term battle,” said Caroline Pozmentier, deputy mayor of Marseille.
Elite police deployed following the incident on the north side of the city and residents of La Castellane neighborhood, home to some 7,000, were ordered to stay indoors.
The local police chief Bourniquel later confirmed it was his vehicle that had been targeted. He had gone to the scene after residents called to report they had seen armed men in the area. Bullets were embedded in a bank above his car, he said.
After Islamic fundamentalists killed 17 people in an attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris last month, the whole country has been on a high alert to prevent the recurrence of any such attacks. Inspite of that, two soldiers protecting a Jewish organization and radio station were wounded in a knife attack in Nice last week.