Youths rampaged for a third night in the tough suburbs north of Paris and violence spread to a southern city late Tuesday as police struggled to contain rioters who have burned cars and buildings and—in an ominous turn—shot at officers.
A senior police union official warned that “urban guerrillas” had joined the unrest, saying the violence was worse than during three weeks of rioting that raged around French cities in 2005, when firearms were rarely used.
Bands of young people set more cars on fire in and around Villiers-le-Bel, the Paris suburb where the latest trouble first erupted, and 18 people were detained, the regional government said. In the south, 10 cars and a library went up in flames in Toulouse, police said.
Despite the renewed violence, France’s prime minister said the situation was calmer than the two previous nights.
The trigger was the deaths Sunday of two minority teens when their motorscooter collided with a police car in Villiers-le-Bel, a blue-collar town on Paris’ northern edge.
Rioting and arson quickly erupted after the crash. The violence worsened Monday night as it spread from Villiers-le-Bel to other impoverished suburbs north of the French capital. Rioters burned a library, a nursery school and a car dealership and tried to set some buildings on fire by crashing burning cars into them.
Police reinforcements were moved into trouble spots north of Paris on Tuesday. Helicopters flew overhead, shining powerful spotlights into apartment buildings to keep people from leaving their homes.
Patrice Ribeiro of the Synergie police union said rioters this time included “genuine urban guerrillas,” saying the use of firearms—hunting shotguns so far—had added a dangerous dimension.
Police said 82 officers were injured Monday night, 10 of them by buckshot and pellets. Four were seriously wounded, the force said. Police unions said 30 officers were struck by buckshot.
Youths, many of them Arab and black children of immigrants, again appeared to be lashing out at police and other targets seen to represent a French establishment they feel has left them behind.
Suspicion of the police runs high among people in the drab housing project where the two teenagers died in the crash. The boys were identified in French media only by their first names, Lakhami, 16, and Mouhsin, 15.
There have long been tensions between France’s largely white police force and the ethnic minorities trapped in poor neighborhoods.
Despite decades of problems and heavy state investments to improve housing and create jobs, the depressed projects that ring Paris are a world apart from the tourist attractions of the capital. Police speak of no-go zones where they and firefighters fear to patrol.
In Villiers-le-Bel late Monday, arsonists set fire to the municipal library and burned books littered its floor Tuesday. Shops and businesses were also attacked, and more than 70 vehicles were torched, authorities said.
Rioters even rammed burning cars into buildings, trying to set the structures on fire, authorities said. Police reported six arrests.
Several hundred youths organized in small groups led the rioting in Villiers-le-Bel, and incidents were also reported in five other towns north of Paris, the regional government reported.