Police still have no idea what caused hooded gunmen to launch an attack on French police in Marseille on Monday as Prime Minister Manuel Valls was arriving for a two-day visit to the Mediterranean port city.
Pierre-Parie Bourniquel, regional director of public security, was quoted by France 24 as saying the gunmen opened fire with Kalashnikov assault rifles at officers in a police vehicle, but said there were no immediate reports of injuries.
It is still not yet clear whether the attack was related to drug gangs or terrorism.
Valls had arrived for a visit to congratulate city officials on statistics showing an impressive drop in the city’s crime rate over the past year.
Residents in the northern suburb of La Castellane, home to some 7,000 people, were ordered to remain indoors for their own safety. Security personnel evacuated a school as elite GIPN special ops forces moved into a sealed-off estate, according to a police source.
The area is a melting pot of poverty, prostitution, drug trafficking and violence, according to Samia Ghali, a senator from Marseille, the second-largest city in France. “It’s a dangerous cocktail and we saw evidence of that today,” Ghali told BFM TV. Likewise, Marseille Deputy Mayor Caroline Pozmentier commented, “This battle against drug trafficking is a long-term battle.”
But it doesn’t make sense that men wearing hoods would suddenly open fire with Kalashnikov assault rifles at officers sitting in a police vehicle in to bust up a drug sting. Most drug traffickers try to avoid attracting the attention of law enforcement personnel.
There is still no reliable information on whether there were any casualties, and none of the perpetrators have been identified; nor have authorities told media whether any of the attackers have been apprehended.
Many of the members of France’s five million-strong Muslim population live in suburbs such as that which came under siege on Monday.
In the neighborhood of La Castellane, turnout was very low when millions of others turned out to honor the memory of those who died in the terror attack on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly last month. The magazine came under attack by a terror cell from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for publishing satiric cartoon images of Islam’s founder, the prophet Muhammad.
Last week a terrorist stabbed two French soldiers standing guard outside a Jewish community center building in the southern city of Nice. A third soldier was not injured. The attacker and a second man were subsequently arrested.
The country has been on high alert since a three-day siege in Paris carried out in a joint operation by terror cells from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Peninsula and Daesh, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terror group.
A total of 17 people died in those attacks, which included the massacre of 12 journalists and others at the Charlie Hebdo French satiric magazine. More than a dozen others were held hostage for hours and four Jews were murdered as they completed their last-minute shopping before the Sabbath at the Hyper Cacher kosher grocery. A policewoman was murdered when she stopped to investigate a motor vehicle accident involving one of the terror cells; they killed her to prevent the discovery of the weapons cache in the car.
France has since resolved to hire some 2,600 additional counter terror operations troops, and provide police with enhanced weaponry in order to deal with the threat. Some 10,000 French soldiers have been deployed to secure iconic sites, landmarks and Jewish institutions around the country as well.