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France deploys elite police unit to Marseille to tackle deadly drugs crimewave

Policemen from unit "Brigade specialiste terrain" (BST 14) run after suspected dealers in the northern district of Marseille, southern France on March 31, 2023.
Policemen from unit "Brigade specialiste terrain" (BST 14) run after suspected dealers in the northern district of Marseille, southern France on March 31, 2023. Copyright CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP
Copyright CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP
By Gael Camba
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CRS 8 special police unit is being deployed to fight against the bloody war for the control of drug trafficking in Marseille. The gang war has killed 12 people since mid-July.

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The French government is deploying an elite police unit to Marseille, to tackle a violent and deadly drugs-related crimewave which has already seen a dozen people killed since mid-July. 

The CRS 8 unit, which specialises in combating urban violence, will be deployed to the southern city over the next few days and carry out targeted operations against drug crime syndicates. 

The unit will stay in Marseille "for about a week, with the aim of carrying out crackdowns on drug trafficking, particularly at drug dealing points", according to the officials. 

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin had already sent the police unit in February to combat drug trafficking. This unit can be deployed 24 hours a day "in 15 minutes within a radius of 300 kilometres in the event of serious public order disturbances and urban violence", Darmanin explained, when it was first set up in 2021. 

Searching for drugs and weapons, this 200-strong unit will try to hinder drugs traffickers to reduce their sales.

A bloody war between two gangs

Since mid-July, 12 people have died as a result of drug trafficking in Marseille. "This is no more no less than the resumption of the conflict between 'Yoda' and 'DZ Mafia'", declared Frédérique Camilleri, the Prefect of Police of Marseille, at a recent press conference.

The ongoing war pits two two powerful networks known as 'DZ Mafia' and 'Yoda' against each other. Since the beginning of the year, their fight has been responsible for 80% of homicides or attempted homicides by organised gangs in Marseille, according to the Prefect of Police.

Camilleri is concerned about the new form this conflict is taking: "We are entering a new world of drug-related violence, with murders being staged on social networks", she explained.

CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP
A French policeman from unit "Brigade specialiste terrain" (BST 14) shows a bag of drugs found in a northern district of Marseille, southern France on March 31, 2023.CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP

In February, a 17-year-old teenager died after being lynched by around thirty people in the Paternelle housing estate, at the heart of drug-related violence. The attack was filmed and broadcast live on Snapchat.

According to authorities, the culprits and victims are getting younger, and the "trivialisation of killer recruitment" is also part of the change in these gang conflicts. In early April, an 18-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of shooting dead two teenagers aged 15 and 16.

36 deaths in 2023 in Marseille linked to drug trafficking

Since the beginning of August, eight people have been shot dead in the city.

And since the start of the year, 36 people have lost their lives in Marseille as a result of drug trafficking, according to a recent AFP count.

The Marseille public prosecutor's office explains that the proportion of 14-21 year-olds among the victims is increasing. Some 14% are aged between 14 and 17; and 27% are between 18 and 21. 

Every day in Marseille, a minor is brought before a juvenile judge or the juvenile court for drug-related offences.

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