Already with at least 22 victims of settling of accounts this year, Marseille is gripped by a war between rival ultraviolent gangs, amid efforts by police forces to dismantle the operations of drug trafficking networks.
“It is very difficult to prevent the settling of accounts; it can happen anywhere, anytime,” said David-Olivier Reverdy, of the police union Alliance. In one month, at least six people were killed in Marseilles and the suburbs in this way. Add to that one more this weekend.
Kalashnikov, a symbol of war
On Saturday, September 3, in the morning, a man was killed by two bullets from Kalashnikovs fired at close range in the head at the Rognac nightclub, near Marseille.
The most dramatic episode of this series took place on 7 August, when two young men were ambushed at about 10am, not far from the city centre: driving two cars, one was killed in his vehicle and the other in the street as he tried to flee.
Authorities believe the upsurge in executions is partly due to operations to dismantle drug trafficking networks, particularly located in the cities of the popular neighbourhoods of the city.
“The police work and the increase in ‘settling scores’ are not unconnected,” explained Laurent Mucchielli, the sociologist specialising in crime.
“Often police will focus on stopping trafficking at the local level because working higher up the chain is very costly in time and resources. But lately, the police have worked their way up in a number of networks – which destabilises the environment causing increased competition, often leading to escalating executions,” he said.
The rivalry between the so-called “Blacks” and “Gypsies” gangs dates back to the late 2000’s. But it has accelerated in recent months, especially after the dismantling of a network belonging to the “Blacks” in a city north of Marseille.
Installed in a neighbouring city, the “Gypsies” saw it as an opportunity to try to take back or eliminate this competitor. The ensuing turf war only added to the existing intra-gang vendettas.
Two major rivalries are regularly cited as the cause of many ‘settlements of accounts’ in recent years: in addition to that of “Blacks” and “Gypsies”, the opposing gangs of Redmania and Berrebouh-Tir.
Investigators regularly link the victims to either of these gangs, who now use GPS tags to track their targets: it is no longer about grabbing territory, but also to avenge death of colleagues.
“Killing anywhere and anyhow”
“The police have improved considerably in their knowledge of the chain of command. To some extent, it helps them to pick likely future victims, but there are no legal tools to protect someone pre-emptively” said David-Olivier Reverdy.
In the population of the North neighbourhoods, PS Senator and Mayor of the 15th and 16th arrondissements of Marseille, Samia Ghali describes “paranoia”, linked to the fear of a stray bullet, “They will kill anyone, anywhere, and we fear collateral damage. There are no limits for these gangs.” she said
“It is not any more dramatic or worse now than before,” Laurent Mucchielli suggested. “There was a similar peak in the mid 1980’s, where we had over 40 executions in a year.”