Around 40 people armed with fireworks and steel bars besieged a police station outside Paris early Sunday, authorities said, prompting new calls for tougher government action after a string of attacks on France's security forces.
Two officers were on a cigarette break outside the station in Champigny-sur-Marne, around 12 kilometres (8 miles) east of the capital, when the assailants suddenly converged shortly before midnight.
The officers barely managed to barricade themselves inside when the crowd began attacking the entrance and several police vehicles, while others launched a barrage of powerful fireworks against the building.
No injuries were reported.
The city’s mayor, Laurent Jeanne, told AFP the police might have been targeted in retaliation for a recent scooter accident allegedly caused by police, “which has not been proven.”
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin tweeted that “these little dealers don’t scare anyone, and will not discourage our anti-drug work”, though police officials did not identify the attackers.
Darmanin’s office announced later that he would meet Tuesday with police unions, who have been pressing for months for concrete measures to improve working conditions.
Prosecutors said that an arrest reported on Sunday was not related to the attack, adding that surveillance cameras were being reviewed for clues.
Jeanne acknowledged that drug trafficking was a problem in the Bois-L’Abbe neighbourhood, where the station is located.
After a similar incident in northwest France, prosecutors said three people had been arrested in the city of Le Mans after police vehicles were attacked with “mortar-launched fireworks” on the night of Friday to Saturday. No-one was hurt in the incident.
‘Scenes of war’
Police unions said the attack near Paris underscored a growing threat against law enforcement officers in depressed suburbs of Paris and other large cities.
Tensions have long run high in these densely populated and often poor areas where large immigrant communities have long complained about police brutality and racism.
Two police officers were attacked and shot with their own guns in a Paris suburb last Wednesday, prompting renewed calls for greater efforts to tackle crime and insecurity.
“There is no longer any respect for law enforcement, and unfortunately the government has not succeeded in changing this trend,” Frederic Lagache of the Alliance police union said Sunday.
“What will it take for the government to commit to protecting its security forces?” he said.
The Unite SGP union said the Champigny attack proved that officers “are at risk of being attacked even on their station’s doorstep.”
“These are literally scenes of war,” Valerie Pecresse, the rightwing leader of the Ile-de-France region that encompasses Paris, told BFM television as she visited the Champigny station on Sunday.
“The interior minister needs to increase the number of officers in neighbourhoods hit hardest by organised crime,” she said.
Several other police stations across France have been targeted in similar fireworks attacks this year, and the Champigny-sur-Marne station had already been hit by youths wielding fireworks, most recently last April.
“But that was just kids acting out during the lockdown” imposed to curb the coronavirus, Jeanne said.
“This was something totally different — they wanted to physically injure these two officers,” he said.