Inside Marseille’s deadly drug wars: Why are youths killing youths?

Inside Marseille’s deadly drug wars: Why are youths killing youths?
Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Hans von der BrelieEva Kandoul
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Forty-nine people were killed in drug-related shoot-outs between rival gangs in Marseille in 2023 - and the killing is ongoing. Is the situation in the French port city spiralling out of control? Euronews Witness heads south to find out.

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“It was a night of horror,” explained Laetitia Linon, staring at her nephew’s grave in Marseille’s largest cemetery. The 14-year-old was killed outside a housing estate in the city's impoverished 'Quartiers Nord'. He was shot five times with a Kalashnikov. “A little boy can die here under a hail of bullets, like in Mexico, a cartel country,“ Linon added.

Some parents are resorting to unusual means in a bid to protect their children. “They bring charges against their own children to keep them safe from drug networks,” law student Amine Kessaci, founder of the NGO 'Conscience', told Euronews. 

”We’ve lost the drug war,” he said. Drug trafficking killed his older brother. His body was found burnt in a car in December 2020. Since then, the drug-related death count has exploded.

In 2023, 49 people died against the backdrop of drug trafficking, this figure was an all-time high. A turf war is at the root of these drug feuds. Two of the biggest drug cartels - DZ Mafia and Yoda - are fighting for control of a highly profitable drug market.

A very lucrative business

In France, drug trafficking generates about €3 billion every year. Some of Marseille’s dealing spots turn over between €25,000 and €90,000 daily. “Money that flows, corrupts and kills”, the city’s public prosecutor Nicolas Bessone, told Euronews.

In 'Les Marronniers', one of Marseille’s active trafficking points, prices are displayed “just like on a restaurant menu,” said Mohamed Benmeddour, a local resident and social worker.

Euronews reporter Hans and local resident Mohamed in Les Marronniers
Euronews reporter Hans and local resident Mohamed in Les MarronniersEuronews

The recently-appointed public prosecutor aims to track down the heads of the networks, including those abroad. “It is wrong to say that the state is not fully aware of this phenomenon,” Nicolas Bessone said.

The Minister of Justice is also creating liaison magistrate jobs in Dubai “as this is where the drug lords have flown to,” he added And the hard work is paying off.

In 2023, French authorities seized seven tonnes of cannabis, €21 million in criminal assets and 107 assault rifles in the region around Marseille. Every day, five to 10 drug selling points are dismantled in France’s second city. But many people have lost confidence in the state.

In Marseille, resources were insufficient to guarantee security and public tranquility. Our Marseille en Grand plan has deployed more police officers on the ground, more investigators, more magistrates and clerks, more prison places.

To rebuild trust between the police and the population, the RAID AVENTURE association was created by a former member of an elite police unit. Bruno Pomart has set up sports activities in drug-plagued neighbourhoods.

“Reaching out to families and young people is the most important part of our job,” said Pomart. "It's a way of reclaiming these areas and showing that they haven't been abandoned," he explained.

Families in the northern districts have also highlighted the urgency of tackling the social roots of drug dealing through employment. Developing entrepreneurship by increasing local SME investments is part of the long-term solution. In addition, the state has pledged additional support to school dropouts and single-parent families.

But the wounds left by the drug war might never heal. “I’ll never accept Rayanne’s death,” concluded Linon. He had his entire life ahead of him and I will never forgive those who did this to us, we’ve lost too much”.

Journalist • Hans von der Brelie

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