Thousands march after Grenoble gang killings
It was a murder that shook France – two young men with no police record and promising futures were brutally killed in a public park in Grenoble by a gang of up to 15 youths. The city, the scene of intense rioting in 2010, is reeling in shock.
Approximately 10,000 residents of a suburb of the southwestern city of Grenoble took to the streets on Tuesday evening in a silent protest to express their horror at the brutal killings of two young men on Friday, a crime that has profoundly shocked France.
Kevin Noubissi and Sofiane Tadburt, both aged 21, were set upon by a gang of up to 15 youths wielding pickaxe handles, baseball bats, knives and hammers after an apparent sleight involving Noubissi’s younger brother.
According to reports, the youngster had been assaulted by members of the gang, and Noubissi approached them demanding an explanation and an apology.
Put out by this apparent effrontery, the gang launched their deadly assault on Noubissi, and also on Tadburt “because he happened to be there and was Noubissi’s friend,” according to a police source who said Tadburt was stabbed at least 30 times.
Neither of the young students had any police record. Friends and family said that they both had promising futures, prospects lacking for many in France’s “banlieues”, where rampant unemployment and petty criminality are often the norm.
On Tuesday police arrested 10 people in dawn raids, most of them aged between 18 and 21.
Among them was the mother of two serving soldiers from la Villeneuve who were themselves arrested on Monday afternoon, one of them some 500km away in the Var administrative region.
Grenoble’s city prosecutor confirmed that 12 people were being held on Tuesday, accused of “assassinating” the youngsters. Three others were still “on the run”.
Not one of them admitted involvement in the killings, the prosecutor said, while the two soldier brothers were “refusing to comment or answer questions”.
President Hollande visits the families
French President François Hollande and his Interior Minister Manuel Valls travelled to Grenoble late on Monday to speak to the victims’ families to put up a strong front in the face of this apparently senseless act of violence.
Hollande was accosted as he visited the poor suburb by one resident who lambasted security forces for failing to stop the violence she said was plaguing the area. “This neighbourhood has turned into the Wild West,” she shouted.
On Tuesday Valls, who has been cultivating a “tough guy” image in the face of France’s persistent suburban criminality, called the attack a “massacre” and declared the Villeneuve district of Grenoble a “Priority Security Zone”, one of 16 across France that have been created since Hollande’s Socialist government came to power in June.
Grenoble has seen its fair share of violence over the past few years, sparking former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2010 highly publicised crackdown on suburban delinquency.
In July of that year, police shot dead an armed robber, setting off days of rioting and destruction by local youths.
Unemployment linked to gang culture
Sarkozy responded by declaring “a national war” against “louts” and drug dealers, and since then there has been a reinforcement of the police presence in Grenoble’s troubled suburbs.
“There has been some improvement in terms of urban violence since 2010,” said Daniel Chomette, head of the regional branch of the Unité SGP Police union.
“But then this improvement has not been felt in terms of the black market prevalent in these suburbs,” he told AFP. “In other words, police reinforcements have not been able to deal with the illegal trade in guns and drugs.
“It’s important to understand that in these suburbs, many people live a hand-to-mouth existence, they are under-qualified and disenfranchised from the job market.”
These were “ideal conditions for the emergence of gang culture,” he said, adding that “the police can’t do much about the unemployment rate. As a result we are powerless to stop young people forming gangs.”
But Marie-France Chamekh, the head of a local association working to get young people into work, insisted that conditions in La Villeneuve and neighbouring Echirolles had improved since 2010, and rejected the link between joblessness and such brutal killings.
“Two of the young men arrested were serving soldiers, so they had jobs at least,” she told FRANCE 24 as she took part in the thousands-strong silent protest march, which she said represented all ages and all communities in a powerful show of local solidarity.
“For the moment we don’t know anything about the others who have been detained.
“But whatever the social and economic problems of this area, the scale and horror of these killings are unimaginable. No one here can understand how something like this could have happened.”
Mrs Chamekh said that the Grenoble city authorities and local associations had been working hard in recent years to improve life in Grenoble’s poor suburbs, where youth unemployment stands at 40%.
“From the city authorities to the police and to local associations, everyone has been doing their bit,” she said. “Now we all need to roll up our sleeves and carry on the hard work.”