A French police officer was detained for questioning yesterday over the fatal shooting of a young man that has sparked two nights of rioting in the western city of Nantes.
Burned out cars and broken glass littered the streets after angry youths clashed with police in low-income neighbourhoods across the city.
Eleven people were arrested after rioters torched several buildings, including a library, a crèche and a pharmacy, and more than 40 cars were burned in the early hours of yesterday.
Another person was arrested in the Paris suburb of Garges-les-Gonesse where the slain 22-year-old grew up, after youths threw Molotov cocktails at police and set dumpsters alight.
The killing of the young man, identified by local media as Aboubakar F, risks inflaming tensions in deprived urban areas in France where residents frequently complain of police brutality.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, on a visit to Nantes, condemned the riots and promised “the fullest transparency” about the circumstances of the man’s death.
Aboubakar F was under surveillance as part of a drug-trafficking investigation when he was stopped by police in the Breil neighbourhood while driving on Tuesday.
He was also wanted in Creteil, near Paris, for robbery and other offences.
Police in Nantes said he was not carrying ID and gave a false name, and they attempted to arrest him.
Nantes prosecutor Pierre Sennes said the driver then “apparently tried to escape the search by quickly reversing”.
Police sources said he drove into one of the officers, prompting his partner to open fire – but a witness said the car was halted when the driver was hit in the neck by a single bullet.
The officer who fired the shot has been detained by a police oversight body, the IGPN, which is investigating the killing.
Sennes said that the officer was being held on suspicion of “voluntary violence by a person in authority leading to unintentional death”.
Locals have been upset by the scale of the destruction.
“It’s too much, I don’t understand it,” kebab-shop owner Yamina said, in shock as she inspected her burnt-out restaurant and car.
“They are burning our neighbourhoods when we are already poor,” said another woman who did not want to give her name, though she also expressed anger at the police who “are never there”.
A woman who filmed the incident, who wished to remain anonymous, said that “there were no police behind the car, he didn’t hit anyone. There was only the one gunshot”.
French police have a long history of strained relations with youths in poor suburbs with large immigration populations, while officers frequently complain about being targeted.
The riot-hit districts of Nantes – Bellevue, Dervallieres, Malakoff and Breil – all have a history of gang violence.
In January, the government vowed a crackdown on urban violence after a shocking video emerged of a policewoman being beaten by a crowd in the Paris suburbs on New Year’s Eve.
A parliamentary report released on Tuesday showed high suicide rates within the police and warned about widespread low morale in the force.
In 2005, two teenagers of African origin were electrocuted while hiding from officers in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, sparking nationwide riots.
Anger over heavy-handed policing bubbled over again last year when a young black man in another Paris suburb suffered severe anal injuries during his arrest which were caused by a truncheon.