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Police bust major Marseille drug ring

rfi English, Jun 25

Police announced that they have smashed a major drug trafficking ring in Marseille, a key hub in the trans-Mediterranean cannabis and cocaine trade, where several people are killed each year in turf wars.

Eight people were taken into custody in a raid in the notorious Castellane housing estate, the nexus of the city's drug trade, regional police chief Eric Arella said at a press conference.

Around 250 officers took part in the operation, which netted 200 kilogrammes of cannabis resin and nine weapons, including two AK-47 assault rifles, as well as a grenade, two bullet-proof vests and €30,000 in cash.

Around 20 people accused of having various roles in the drugs business, from lookouts to "mules" (a person used to trasnport drugs) to a ringleader, were arrested.

Eight were charged with drug smuggling, criminal conspiracy and weapons offences and placed in preventive custody, explained Marseille's public prosecutor Xavier Tarabeux.

Arella said around 900 drug deals worth €40,000 to €50,000 take place daily in Castellane, an estate of tower blocks home to 7,000 people famous for producing football legend Zinedine Zidane.

One of the eight suspects is a syndicate leader, Arella added.

Two are fugitives from justice who had been sentenced to jail time for drug smuggling late last year, Tarabeux added.

During the raid police took a picture of a hut where deals were conducted and where marijuana prices were listed on a sign, with the message "Enjoy smoking and see you soon!"

The arrests come two weeks after a young man was gunned down on a Saturday night in Marseille's scenic Old Port, the latest victim of the city's drug wars which have been blamed for 12 deadly shootings so far this year, nearly as many as in all of 2017.

In a sign of the brazenness of the city's gangs, a group of around 10 gunmen travelling by car besieged a rundown housing estate in the city's north on a recent weekday afternoon.

The attackers, who wore balaclavas, fired into the air with AK-47s next to a social centre and then aimed at police while making their getaway.

A video of the incident, which a resident caught on camera, went viral on social media, prompting an outcry over the sense of lawlessness and absence of the state in Marseille.

On a visit to the city the following day President Emmanuel Macron expressed concern over the violence and pledged to come up with a national plan to combat drug trafficking by July.

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