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Off-duty police officers targeted in French riots

Colleagues try to help an off-duty police officer who was left unconscious. Credit: ACTU17

July 13, 2023 - 4:00pm

One of the most disturbing pieces of footage doing the rounds during the recent rioting which swept France shows an off-duty police officer lying motionless on the ground, as a helpless colleague tries to shield him. Despite their casual t-shirts and jeans, the officers were recognised by rioters and attacked in Marseille’s city centre. Following claims from both riot sympathisers and opponents online that the officer was killed, it was made clear that he had been hospitalised with a broken jaw.

Although in excess of 700 police officers were injured (some fired upon with live ammo) during the riots, there was also a concerning trend of attacks against off-duty officers under the cover of unrest and a wave of anti-police sentiment — attacks which bear the hallmarks of coordination and premeditation.

As Agnes Poirier elaborated in the Times, French enmity for the police is hardly new and cuts across class and demographic lines. In a country where rioting is joked about as a national pastime, footage of dramatic confrontations with law enforcement was a regular feature of both the Gilets Jaunes protests and the more recent pension reform unrest. Yet, obscured by extensive coverage of the most spectacular and costly riots since 2005, piecing together local and law enforcement reporting makes it possible to observe a unique and emerging trend. Namely, the specific targeting of police officers and officials well away from the epicentre of the riots — in some cases at home with their children.

On the same day as the Marseille assault, in an otherwise quiet part of the Île-de-France region, a Paris-based policeman and his family were awakened in the night to the threats of a group of men gathered outside their home. The gang set the officer’s car alight before fleeing the scene. In the following days, again in Île-de-France, a policewoman driving with her children was pursued and rammed by another vehicle attempting to box her in.

In a separate but more spontaneous incident, a policeman became embroiled in a parking dispute with another group. The argument escalated to an assault which left the officer hospitalised, all witnessed by his young daughter in the car. According to reports, it was the victim’s identification as a cop which triggered the assault.

Less than a week ago, a 24-year-old officer was attacked on his way home after midnight in the Yvelines department. During the ordeal the officer’s car was stolen — along with his service weapon. The car was later found burnt out but the gun remains missing, only adding to the caches of firearms stolen during the unrest.

To highlight these disparate incidents is not for a moment to distract from the wrongful killing of 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk at the hands of police in Nanterre. They do, though, raise significant questions about increasingly bold anti-police violence, the attacks’ apparent coordination and officers’ personal details somehow coming into the possession of criminal gangs.

Indeed, within hours of Merzouk’s death, the name and private address of the officer responsible for the shooting were widely shared on social media alongside calls for retribution. One circulating photo appeared to show a social security document — the kind ordinarily only available to a municipal or hospital worker. In any case, the family of the officer who has been arrested and charged have since been moved for their safety.

The shocking attempted assassination of a local mayor and his family in the quiet suburb of L’Haÿ-les-Roses has understandably overshadowed these attacks, but it is imperative to connect the dots and show how that incident, troubling as it was, was far from unique. 

Burning cars and barricades may be plus ça change in the hexagon, but the general anger and restlessness of French political life does not explain the intentional targeting, assaults and attempted murders of officers and officials in their own homes, surrounded by their families. This particular trend suggests not spontaneous rage in response to a single event, but instead a more intense and prolonged hostility to police, to republican institutions — and little in the way of concern for any consequences.


Liam Duffy is a researcher, speaker and trainer in counter-terrorism based in London.

LiamSD12

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Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
10 months ago

’Wrongful’ killing?
How about we call it unfortunate until due process has shed light on exactly whether or not it was wrongful? As I understand it police in France are allowed to use their weapons in circumstances like these, and the officer in this case was attempting to stop a 17-yr old with no licence or insurance, a criminal history, allegedly delivering pizza (yeah, right) in an AMG Benz, who then hit the officer with the car as he sought to escape. This yob would then have been speeding around the city in a high-powered car to which the police would have been either required to give chase, with due risk to the life and limbs of the unfortunate citizens who live in the area, or else simply give up and turn a blind eye someone simply refusing to cooperate with a legitimate traffic stop.
Sure, you’re not supposed to die for that, and it is unfortunate that this young man did. To describe the actions of the officer as ‘wrongful’ seems to me do be jumping to conclusions. More rigour with with use of words would be much appreciated.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
10 months ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

Indeed – and let us remember that it is a very thin blue line that is responsible for the rule of law – and without that ALL societies are doomed to become failed states – it is a big deal !! Maybe the sane and civilised need to step up and support their police – or get the army actually doing something for a change…

Paul Castle
Paul Castle
10 months ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

Far too many Islamists an France and Britain and most of them are illegals . Millions of them have flooded the country from North Africa and the Middle East for years now .No one controls Europe’s borders these days despite being elected to do just that and to keep Europe and Britain safe . The EU is the problem , they think that terrorists and all illegals have more human rights than the citizens of Europe .

Paul Castle
Paul Castle
10 months ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

Far too many Islamists an France and Britain and most of them are illegals . Millions of them have flooded the country from North Africa and the Middle East for years now .No one controls Europe’s borders these days despite being elected to do just that and to keep Europe and Britain safe . The EU is the problem , they think that terrorists and all illegals have more human rights than the citizens of Europe .

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
10 months ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

I was going to make the same comment myself. All the press seem to have fallen into this trap

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
10 months ago

The other irritating thing the media does is refer to him as Nahel, his first name, like he’s a friend or relative. He should be referred to by his surname, Merzouk, in press reports.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
10 months ago

The other irritating thing the media does is refer to him as Nahel, his first name, like he’s a friend or relative. He should be referred to by his surname, Merzouk, in press reports.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
10 months ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

Exactly. The fact that Nahel Merzouk tried to flee from the police tells me that he had no respect for law and order to start with. He probably was conditioned by his peers in his community to disrespect and pay no attention to police. This points to the possibility that his community was on the lookout to cause trouble at the slightest hint of a conflict with police. The riots seem just too well organised to be explained away as unfortunate spontaneous outcome of police brutality! Perhaps, cause and effects are mixed up here.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
10 months ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

Indeed – and let us remember that it is a very thin blue line that is responsible for the rule of law – and without that ALL societies are doomed to become failed states – it is a big deal !! Maybe the sane and civilised need to step up and support their police – or get the army actually doing something for a change…

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
10 months ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

I was going to make the same comment myself. All the press seem to have fallen into this trap

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
10 months ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

Exactly. The fact that Nahel Merzouk tried to flee from the police tells me that he had no respect for law and order to start with. He probably was conditioned by his peers in his community to disrespect and pay no attention to police. This points to the possibility that his community was on the lookout to cause trouble at the slightest hint of a conflict with police. The riots seem just too well organised to be explained away as unfortunate spontaneous outcome of police brutality! Perhaps, cause and effects are mixed up here.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
10 months ago

’Wrongful’ killing?
How about we call it unfortunate until due process has shed light on exactly whether or not it was wrongful? As I understand it police in France are allowed to use their weapons in circumstances like these, and the officer in this case was attempting to stop a 17-yr old with no licence or insurance, a criminal history, allegedly delivering pizza (yeah, right) in an AMG Benz, who then hit the officer with the car as he sought to escape. This yob would then have been speeding around the city in a high-powered car to which the police would have been either required to give chase, with due risk to the life and limbs of the unfortunate citizens who live in the area, or else simply give up and turn a blind eye someone simply refusing to cooperate with a legitimate traffic stop.
Sure, you’re not supposed to die for that, and it is unfortunate that this young man did. To describe the actions of the officer as ‘wrongful’ seems to me do be jumping to conclusions. More rigour with with use of words would be much appreciated.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
10 months ago

Is this not seriously turning into a civil war? Not simply between migrants and hosts – although there seems to be some element of this, deep inside the poison mix – but between globalists and nationalists; between anywheres and somewheres. The disaffected moslem imperialists of the banlieues are the globalists’ eager footsoldiers, just as the goths supplied corrupt emperors and senators with private armies in tottering Rome; the old and / or assimilated public are their targets – I say targets because there is as yet almost no active resistance. Of course, like the goths before them, the globalists’ footsoldiers will soon be resting their feet on the necks of their former allies and soi-disant masters: Eurabia will be upon us. This will be so hotly denied, and with such a combustible compound of sneering and rage among the bien pensants, that one might fry an egg on their foreheads as they splutter and scream. But when it actually comes to pass they will celebrate it as “change” or “progress”, just as they now deny that Rome “fell” at all. It just “adapted”. What loathsome, trimming, untrustworthy traitors the left are!

Last edited 10 months ago by Simon Denis
Simon Denis
Simon Denis
10 months ago

Is this not seriously turning into a civil war? Not simply between migrants and hosts – although there seems to be some element of this, deep inside the poison mix – but between globalists and nationalists; between anywheres and somewheres. The disaffected moslem imperialists of the banlieues are the globalists’ eager footsoldiers, just as the goths supplied corrupt emperors and senators with private armies in tottering Rome; the old and / or assimilated public are their targets – I say targets because there is as yet almost no active resistance. Of course, like the goths before them, the globalists’ footsoldiers will soon be resting their feet on the necks of their former allies and soi-disant masters: Eurabia will be upon us. This will be so hotly denied, and with such a combustible compound of sneering and rage among the bien pensants, that one might fry an egg on their foreheads as they splutter and scream. But when it actually comes to pass they will celebrate it as “change” or “progress”, just as they now deny that Rome “fell” at all. It just “adapted”. What loathsome, trimming, untrustworthy traitors the left are!

Last edited 10 months ago by Simon Denis
Linda M Brown
Linda M Brown
10 months ago

Water cannon, rubber bullets or live rounds used by the police officers, this is a civil war, not a demonstration. It isn’t going to go away until the French Government stops pussyfooting around

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago
Reply to  Linda M Brown

they are NOT officers

Linda M Brown
Linda M Brown
10 months ago

The police aren’t officers?

Paul Castle
Paul Castle
10 months ago
Reply to  Linda M Brown

Imposters many of them !

Paul Castle
Paul Castle
10 months ago
Reply to  Linda M Brown

Imposters many of them !

Linda M Brown
Linda M Brown
10 months ago

The police aren’t officers?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago
Reply to  Linda M Brown

they are NOT officers

Linda M Brown
Linda M Brown
10 months ago

Water cannon, rubber bullets or live rounds used by the police officers, this is a civil war, not a demonstration. It isn’t going to go away until the French Government stops pussyfooting around

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
10 months ago

Sounds like the sort of thing Northern Irish police officers have been enduring since the 1970s.

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
10 months ago

Sounds like the sort of thing Northern Irish police officers have been enduring since the 1970s.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
10 months ago

Let’s talk about exactly who is committing these attacks. Why are they not identified in this article? Does it have something to do with the way the author pre-emptively describes the death of a criminal suspect fleeing police and striking an officer with a car as a “wrongful killing”?

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
10 months ago

Let’s talk about exactly who is committing these attacks. Why are they not identified in this article? Does it have something to do with the way the author pre-emptively describes the death of a criminal suspect fleeing police and striking an officer with a car as a “wrongful killing”?

Frank Carney
Frank Carney
10 months ago

Nothing in the least unique about this trend. Exactly the same was manifest in Hong Kong in 2019. Police homes – often with children and elderly parents inside – were targeted for fire-bombing, as were off-duty police (one of whom was almost burned alive when his car was stopped in a rioter roadblock). Police officers’ children targeted for harassment at school. The list goes on. The rioters (of course we have to call them ‘demonstrators’ when it’s Hong Kong) are all reading from the same song sheet.

Last edited 10 months ago by Frank Carney
Frank Carney
Frank Carney
10 months ago

Nothing in the least unique about this trend. Exactly the same was manifest in Hong Kong in 2019. Police homes – often with children and elderly parents inside – were targeted for fire-bombing, as were off-duty police (one of whom was almost burned alive when his car was stopped in a rioter roadblock). Police officers’ children targeted for harassment at school. The list goes on. The rioters (of course we have to call them ‘demonstrators’ when it’s Hong Kong) are all reading from the same song sheet.

Last edited 10 months ago by Frank Carney
Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
10 months ago

Just asking: what’s the right thing to do when someone just drives away from a police stop?

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
10 months ago

Just asking: what’s the right thing to do when someone just drives away from a police stop?

Paul Castle
Paul Castle
10 months ago

In France there are far too many Islamists AND communists but today it’s the Islamists who are really dangerous because they already think they own and run France , the communists by comparison have always been a pain in the arse .

Paul Castle
Paul Castle
10 months ago

In France there are far too many Islamists AND communists but today it’s the Islamists who are really dangerous because they already think they own and run France , the communists by comparison have always been a pain in the arse .

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago

No amount of dislike of todays Gesta Plod , anywhere, surprises me: a seething pit of bent , appallingly trained, badly led, slovenly dressed, ill educated power crazed mediocrity

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 months ago

No amount of dislike of todays Gesta Plod , anywhere, surprises me: a seething pit of bent , appallingly trained, badly led, slovenly dressed, ill educated power crazed mediocrity