Three shot dead in Marseille as gang murders surge
Three men were shot dead with assault rifles on Sunday in the French port city of Marseille, which has seen a surge of drug-related gang murders, police said.
The trio were part of a group of five men in their 20s who left a nightclub shortly after 5:00 am (0300 GMT) and were driving away when their car was attacked by unknown assailants with Kalashnikov rifles, they said.
The two survivors were unharmed after the attack in a residential neighbourhood of Marseille, France's second-biggest city.
One of them fled the scene, as did the shooters, police said.
Police found the getaway car burning nearby, a modus operandi consistent with previous drug-related killings in Marseille where the perpetrators often torch their vehicles to destroy evidence.
Early indications were that the men who were attacked lived in a council estate with a high incidence of drug trafficking and some of them were known to police, according to departmental police prefect Frederique Camilleri.
The estate, called Felix-Pyat, was currently "coveted by a certain number of rival networks", Camilleri said.
She also told reporters at the scene "the entire police force has been mobilised to find the perpetrators of these despicable crimes and to dismantle the networks of the traffickers behind this violence".
Over the weekend, police had arrested five people for possession of firearms linked to the drugs trade, and seized three Kalashnikov assault rifles, a submachine gun and a handgun, she said.
- 'War... going on too long' -
The latest attack brings the number of drug-related homicides in Marseille since the start of the year to 21, according to an AFP count.
The victims are typically young men low in the hierarchy of drug gangs and targeted by killers working for rival gangs.
Camilleri and the city's chief prosecutor Dominique Laurens had already warned last month that competition between rival organisations for control of the city's most lucrative drug-dealing spots was turning into a "vendetta".
That statement came after a night of violence early April when three people were killed by gunfire, including a 16-year old, and eight people injured.
Laurens had spoken of a worsening "blood bath" in Marseille and predicted it would "continue in the coming months".
Special police forces were deployed at key drug flashpoints in the city following that killing spree.
Marseille's mayor Benoit Payan said this month that "this war has been going on for too long" and called on the French government to act "in a firm and strong way" to stop the violence.
"The killers don't even bother to hide anymore," Payan said.