French police face Muslim ‘intifada’

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BRUSSELS — Radical Muslims in France’s housing estates are waging an undeclared “intifada,” or uprising, against the police, with violent clashes injuring about 14 officers each day.

As the Interior Ministry announced that nearly 2,500 officers had been wounded this year, a police union declared that its members were “in a state of civil war” with Muslims in the most depressed “banlieue” estates. Banlieue, which means outskirts, is the commonly used euphemism for the low-income housing projects heavily populated by unemployed youths of North African origin.

The police union said it had asked the government to provide police with armored cars to protect officers in the estates, which it said were becoming no-go zones.

The number of attacks has risen by a third in two years. Police representatives told the newspaper Le Figaro that the “taboo” of attacking officers on patrol has been broken.

Instead, officers — especially those patrolling in pairs or small groups — are facing attacks when they try to arrest locals.

Senior officers insisted that the problem was essentially criminal in nature, with crime bosses on the estates fighting back against tough tactics.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who also is the leading center-right candidate for the presidency, has sent heavily equipped units into areas with orders to regain control from drug-smuggling gangs and other organized crime rings.

However, not all officers on the ground accept that essentially secular interpretation of the problem. Michel Thoomis, the secretary general of the hard-line Action Police trade union, has written to Mr. Sarkozy warning of an “intifada” on the estates and demanding that officers be given armored cars in the most dangerous areas.

“We are in a state of civil war, orchestrated by radical Islamists. This is not a question of urban violence any more. It is an intifada, with stones and Molotov cocktails,” he said last week. “You no longer see two or three youths confronting police, you see whole tower blocks emptying into the streets to set their ‘comrades’ free when they are arrested.”

However, Gerard Demarcq, of the largest police unions, Alliance, dismissed talk of an uprising as representing the views of a minority.

Mr. Demarcq said the increased attacks on officers were proof that the policy of “retaking territory” from criminal gangs was working.

Mayors in the worst-affected suburbs, which saw weeks of riots and car burning a year ago, have expressed fears of a vicious circle, as attacks by locals lead the police to harden their tactics, further increasing resentment.

As if to prove that point, there were angry reactions in the western Paris suburb of Les Mureaux after dawn raids in search of youths who had attacked a police unit last week. The raids led to one arrest.

Scores of youths had attacked seven officers who had tried to arrest a man for not wearing his seat belt while driving. The driver refused to stop and later rammed a police car trying to block his path.

Les Mureaux Mayor Francois Garay criticized aggressive police tactics that left “the people on the ground to pick up the pieces.”

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