A bloody rivalry between two drug gangs in Marseille on France’s Mediterranean coast has claimed the lives of many people this year, punctuated by unprovoked attacks sometimes carried out by teenager, according to police.
The two gangs, “Yoda” and “DZ Mafia” compete for control of the drug market in the famous northern neighborhood of France’s second largest city.
Since the beginning of the year, 36 people have died in gang warfare, according to the AFP count, five more than in all of 2022.
“It’s a bloodbath,” city state prosecutor Dominique Laurens said in April.
Since then there has been another spate of murders, with 12 people killed in the last month alone.
The latest target was a 30-year-old man who was shot with a Kalashnikov assault rifle in northern Marseille Tuesday night.
“This is a new phase of the fight between Yoda and DZ Mafia,” police prefect Frederique Camilleri told reporters on Wednesday.
The two gangs are behind 80 percent of a total of 68 gang-related murders or attempted murders in Marseille this year, he added.
‘Kill to scare’
Some of the victims and perpetrators were teenagers, such as a 17-year-old who was beaten to death by 30 attackers in the Marseille high-rise project known as La Paternelle. The execution was live-streamed on Snapchat, a messaging app.
Camilleri said that while drug-trafficking-related murders used to be about territorial expansion — like taking over a place of business — they were often about terrorizing their rivals.
“We are seeing a new landscape, a paradigm shift,” he said.
Drug gang members now “kill to scare”, which he says is like a “vendetta”, a blood feud motivated by revenge.
And today’s killers are younger and less professional than before, he added.
While gangs used to employ skilled specialists for hits “the recruitment of killers has become commonplace”, he said, “no different than hiring a lookout”.
In early April, the police arrested an 18-year-old, identified only as Matteo F., suspected of shooting Djibril, 15, and Kais, 16.
Matteo told police that he had collected a total of 200,000 euros ($218,000) as payment for the contract killings.
There appears to be no shortage of candidates, despite police arresting 17 suspected members of five hit squads since the spring.
“It used to be that the police got six months of calm after they arrested a group of killers, but that’s over,” Camilleri said.
‘Hit their wallets’
The increase in gang-related killings comes, somewhat ironically, at a time when police are reporting greater success in their fight against drug trafficking.
They seized 740 weapons, including 62 assault rifles, since the beginning of the year, an increase of 24 percent in 2022.
In addition, they arrested 1,144 drug dealers in Marseille, increased by 26 percent, cut the number of deal spots to 70 since 2021, and seized 12 million euros in criminal assets.
The arrest in June of Mohamed Djeha, nicknamed “Mimo”, in Algeria removed one of France’s biggest suspected drug dealers from the scene.
According to Camilleri, the police followed the money to get their hands on the masterminds of the drug trade.
“We are trying to hit their wallets by taking the dealing spots that are the cash cows of the networks, but also by targeting money collectors and money laundering networks,” he said.
‘We are hostages’
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he would send the CRS 8 police unit, which specializes in urban violence situations, in the coming days.
He said that on Thursday the unit will hit the local networks as much as possible in a week, especially their spots.
During a visit to Marseille in June, President Emmanuel Macron announced measures against the inequality of schooling in Marseille – which he said facilitates the recruitment of the city’s youth for drug gangs – and against poverty in its neighborhoods.
“We are hostages here,” a Marseille resident told the visiting president. “We are afraid to go out at night, everyone wants to leave,” he added.
Marseille has a long history of large-scale drug trafficking.
Beginning in the 1930s, the city became a major hub of the “French Connection”, for decades the largest heroin manufacturing and smuggling network in the world.
Run by mafia groups of Corsican background, the French Connection brought morphine extracted from poppy plants in the Near East, Middle East and Asia to Marseille where its laboratories transformed it into heroin for exports mostly to the United States.
That network, made famous by William Friedkin’s eponymous 1971 movie starring Gene Hackman, disbanded only later in the 1970s.