An assault by drug dealers on a 16-year-old has unleashed four days of mob violence in the French city of Dijon, where hundreds of members of the victim's Chechen community have converged from across Europe seeking revenge for the attack.
The French government was forced to send police reinforcements and deputy interior minister Laurent Nunez to the eastern city Tuesday in a bid to restore calm, after a fourth consecutive night of unrest Monday.
Bernard Schmeltz, the top local official, said in a statement that the violence "appeared to be part of a settling of scores between members of the Chechen community in France and residents".
According to local reports, the violence was sparked by an attack by drug dealers on a local teenager from France's Chechen community on June 10, which left the victim hospitalized with serious injuries. As word of the attack spread through social networks, hundreds of Chechens converged in the city Friday, carrying out raids in retaliation for the assault, said Schmeltz.
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One man identifying himself as a Chechen told local newspaper Le Bien Public that the group included people who had travelled from other countries to avenge the attack.
"There were about a hundred of us from all over France, but also from Belgium and Germany," he said. "We never intended to ransack the city or take it out on the people."
Much of the unrest has focused on the low-income neighborhood of Gresilles, where most of the population is of North African descent. On Saturday night, the owner of a local pizza restaurant was shot and seriously wounded after about 50 Chechens rampaged through the neighborhood. The following night, about 200 men descended on Gresilles looking for violence, according to police.
In the latest violence Monday night, police faced off against a masked, armed mob of about 100 locals who had gathered on the streets of Gresilles to defend the neighbourhood against attacks from the Chechens. Four people were arrested after the group torched cars, fired shots into the air, and attacked a car carrying journalists from broadcaster France 3, police said.
The violence has been documented and fuelled by clips circulated on social media, showing large groups of men, many armed with knives, handguns or iron bars, descending on targets through the streets of the city.
One showed a dramatic car crash as a speeding vehicle, apparently surrounded by an angry mob, flipped after hitting the pavement.
In another video, gunshots are heard and a large fire rages in the distance, as the narrator cameraman likens the scene to a war zone.
Another apparently showed a large group of masked residents of Gresilles, brandishing automatic weapons and pistols and firing shots in the air, calling out Chechens with insults.
France’s Ministry of the Interior has slammed the violent unrest and intimidation as unacceptable, and promised a "firm response", while prosecutors have launched an investigation into attempted murder by a criminal gang.
Meanwhile, local authorities have come under fire for allowing the violence to spiral out of control. Schmeltz defended the response, saying that "supervising and surrounding" the gangs was "the only practicable strategy", while Dijon’s mayor Francois Rebsamen blamed a lack of police resources for allowing the wild scenes of violence to continue.
"We're no longer in a [functioning] republic when that is how things play out," he told BFM TV.