Drug war shakes France’s Marseille as rival gangs shoot it out

A rivalry between two drug gangs in Marseille on France’s Mediterranean coast has killed dozens of people this year in brazen attacks sometimes carried out by teenagers, according to police.

The two gangs, “Yoda” and “DZ Mafia” are vying for control of the drugs market in the notorious northern neighbourhoods of France’s second biggest city.Since the start of the year, 36 people have died in the gang war, according to an AFP news agency count, already five more than in all of 2022.

“It’s a bloodbath,” the city’s state prosecutor Dominique Laurens said in April.

Since then, there has been another surge in murders, with 12 people killed over the past month alone.

The latest target was a 30-year-old man shot dead with a Kalashnikov assault rifle in northern Marseille on Tuesday night.

The two gangs were behind 80 percent of the total of 68 gang-related killings or attempted killings in Marseille this year, she added.

Some of the victims and perpetrators are teenagers, like a 17-year-old beaten to death by 30 attackers in the Marseille high-rise project known as La Paternelle. The killing was livestreamed on Snapchat, a messaging app.

Territorial expansion
Camilleri said while murders linked to the drugs trade used to be about the expansion of territory – such as the takeover of a dealing spot – they were now mostly about striking terror in their rivals.Drug gang members now “kill to scare”, which she said was like a “vendetta”, a blood feud motivated by vengeance.

And the killers were now younger and less professional than in the past, she added.

Whereas gangs used to employ skilled specialists for the hits, “the recruitment of killers has become commonplace”, she said, “no different from hiring a lookout”.

In early April, police arrested an 18-year-old, identified only as Matteo F, suspected of shooting dead Djibril, 15, and Kais, 16.

Matteo told police that he had collected a total of 200,000 euros ($218,000) in payment for contract killings.

There appears to be no shortage of candidates, despite police arresting 17 presumed members of five hit squads since the spring.

“It used to be that police got six months of calm after they arrested a team of killers, but that’s over,” Camilleri said.

Police crackdown
The increase in gang-related murders comes, somewhat paradoxically, at a time when police are reporting greater success in their fight against the drugs trade.

They have seized 740 weapons, including 62 assault rifles, since the start of the year, an increase of 24 percent over 2022.

In addition, they have arrested 1,144 drug dealers in Marseille, up 26 percent, cut the number of deal spots by 70 since 2021, and seized 12 million euros in criminal assets.

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